For the next three months, San Antonio’s downtown commuters will be able to get to work by river barge.
From July 2 through Oct. 31, the Commuter Express – a River Walk shuttle service launched by Go Rio Cruises – will take locals and commuters between the Pearl and the Casa Rio and Mexican Manhattan restaurants Monday through Friday. Monthly passes for the service cost $25, with two morning pickup times – at 7 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. – at the Pearl. In the evening, at 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m., the shuttle returns commuters from the two restaurants back to the Pearl.
Go Rio is the contractor for the city’s river cruises, operating a fleet of more than 40 electric-powered boats. The commuter express won’t cut into river cruise operations, Go Rio officials said, because the morning pickup times are before the first tours of the day and only one boat will be taken out of rotation for the evening stops.
Since the company took over the City of San Antonio’s contract as river barge operator last year, Go Rio General Manager Lee Talamantez said the company wanted to expand and find different ways to attract new customers. The limited run of the commuter express will serve as a pilot program to help Go Rio gauge interest from commuters.
“One of our biggest goals since we took over last year was adding new experiences for the people of San Antonio,” Talamantez said. “With [the commuter service] we’re hoping to target new commuters who might not want to worry about paying for parking or are looking for an eco-friendly way to get to work.”
After Go Rio announced the shuttle service, the news was shared several hundred times on Facebook, with many on social media expressing enthusiasm for the idea. Talamantez said much of the public response Go Rio has received has been positive, but there haven’t been many riders during the first week. In the first three days, fewer than 10 people rode the commuter boats, Talamantez said.
Over the next few months, Go Rio will monitor feedback from customers and determine if the service will continue. The company also will determine whether the route could be expanded or pickup and drop off times added.
“We’ve had a lot of people saying, ‘This sounds exciting,’ or ‘This sounds cool,’ but we haven’t had very many people try it out yet,” Talamantez said. “It could be because it’s a holiday week, but we’re sending out educational pieces about it. We’re pushing really hard to get the word out.”
San Antonio native Robert Stout said that growing up, he often wished there had been a service like the commuter express to transport residents through the downtown area. He would like to see a shuttle operating throughout the day as a water taxi for residents.
“As an adult, I can appreciate the beautiful scenery and ambiance that a river shuttle would provide,” he said, “as well as a good way to skip walking through the crowded [River Walk] walkways at busy times, or if you are on a lunch break and need to get to Republic of Texas ASAP.”
Although the service is intended to be nonstop Monday through Friday, heavy rains on Wednesday put the morning route on hold, but operations resumed as scheduled by the evening.
Veronica Garcia, interim assistant director of the City’s Center City Development and Operations Department, said the commuter service was an innovative way to tackle transportation challenges.
“As our downtown continues to grow and thrive, it’s important for us to look for ways to fill transportation gaps,” Garcia said in a statement to the Rivard Report. “The commuter barge service provides an environmentally friendly and convenient way to commute downtown.”
Whether or not the shuttle service succeeds, Talamantez said it’s already set the city apart.
“I can safely say that we’re the first city to introduce something like this,” Talamantez said. “Other cities have trams or subways, but nothing on the river.”