SA River Commuter Service Draws Excitement, But Few Riders So Far

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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."

16 thoughts on “SA River Commuter Service Draws Excitement, But Few Riders So Far

      • No they dont. Most peoplei know start about 9 and work until 6. I think the city starts at 7.30 and works until 4.30. And downtown has a large concentration of hotels with other hours. And if you work until 5, that means you have only 1 chance and can never go to the gym, happy hour, or dinner.

        Who are the most probable people to pay for a boat taxi? Not a bank clerk working 8 to 5.

  1. 30 minutes wait for only 2 rides? Where’s the availability and convenience in that? Make the pick up times more frequent and over a longer time span. So every 10 min, from 6-10 am and 3:00-8:00pm. You get school crowd and business crowd and tourists.
    It’s hot. Sweating, waiting for a taxi before work =not good . Offer shade&Advertise more.

  2. Not surprised there were “fewer than 10” passengers. There is no mention of how long the trip takes in this report or at the Go Rio website. Does “non-stop one way transportation” include getting through the lock at Brooklyn Ave? This option is competing with an 8-9 minute car ride or 20-25 minutes by VIA or bicycle. Many riverine cities have viable shuttles, but this pilot program was half-baked and it shouldn’t take long for Go Rio to gauge interest from commuters.

  3. I don’t think there should be so much negativity. I think it’s a great idea. I’m sure they will adjust their times by asking the people that do ride for input. Perhaps customized smaller boats for River Taxis would make it less expensive to run. It would probably increase ridership, which could lead to expanded times, which would turn around and increase ridership. If they did implement the use of smaller Taxi boats, they might want to make them lower profile like the old barges. I think tourists are missing a lot with the higher profile new boats. The passenger view is not as complete with the new boats.

  4. Need to provide covered barges. It does rain and the sun is hot. Without covered barges, can’t sustain a consistent ridership.

  5. Great comments everyone. NEW ideas take time, and adjusting! I also think more time slots or being able to take any river taxi with a pass. Yeah covered would be nice too and more info about how long the trip is, etc.

  6. This sounds like a well-intentioned, tentative start at gathering data. However, there is no information in the article about what the city is doing to market this to downtown workers. Are they actively courting downtown businesses? People who currently commute to downtown are unlikely to change behavior and take a risk on an unknown experience. Is the city going to local businesses to offer trial runs with employees so they can experience the ease or fun of parking at Pearl and boating in to work? Without significant outreach to employers they aren’t likely to see much uptake on this initiative. And I fear that, like most of the city’s tentative trials, this idea will wither on the vine without enough engagement because “there weren’t enough participants to warrant continuation.”

  7. The shuttle service makes sense but it will be interesting to see if it takes root. If S.A. can’t support river shuttles, what’s the potential for success with mass transit, however defined?

  8. This is the second article I have seen recently with a blurry photo at this website. Is this a new style you are trying? Is it blurred because I use an ad blocker? (I am a paying member of The Rivard Report.) Just curious.

    • Hi there,

      I believe this might have something to do with your ad blocker. The image only shows blurry for a split second before it links to an embedded video which you can find here –

      I’ve checked with my colleagues and have not heard any issues.

      Thanks

  9. Perhaps a combination of Go Rio boats, River Walk trails, and VIA buses can be used as a viable trails and transit system in the San Antonio downtown area.

    Touch or click Map 67 in NatureTrailMaps.net for animated routes of Go Rio boats and VIA buses. Touch or click trails for distances. Touch bus stops for bus schedules.

    Give feedback for how NatureTrailMaps.net be can be enhanced for use as a trails and transit transportation alternative.

  10. if you watch the video, you’ll see a covered boat is impractial because of the bridges downtown…especially with the higher in the water boats. I’m not sure how this would work out, but its refreshing to see the new company trying new things. Love the river!

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