After weathering a pandemic shutdown and difficulty staffing back up, river shuttles are motoring along the River Walk for the first time in two years.
The shuttles are operated by Go Rio San Antonio, a locally owned company, which entered a 10-year contract with the city in 2017. The company also operates the popular river barge tours that take visitors through the busiest portion of the downtown River Walk and feature guides who describe landmarks and their history. While the barge cruises were inactive only for three months at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the shuttle service hadn’t operated since March 2020.
The shuttles run along the San Antonio River between downtown and the Museum Reach, where the San Antonio Museum of Art and the Pearl are located, as well as points in between. The shuttle service resumed on March 12, just in time for spring break, General Manager Lee Talamantez said.
Staffing shortages in all positions across every department were the cause the two-year-long pause of Go Rio’s shuttles.
“In order for us to successfully operate, we need a certain number of captains and a certain amount of staff admissions to be able to provide all the services,” he said. “We were facing every challenge that every operator in every hospitality tourism industry faces …We could not find [barge] captains to come in.”
The company offered incentives to recruit employees, giving existing employees a $500 bonus for referring new applicants, and new employees a $1,000 bonus.
As the company prepared to enter 2022, Talamantez said staff increased for the December 2021 holiday. In February, Talamantez said the company saw an influx of applicants, allowing Go Rio to restart the shuttle service.
“The intention was always to introduce all of our services at a slow pace, just simply to abide by the [pandemic] restrictions and how the pandemic was affecting everything and so forth, but the primary reason was always staffing,” said Talamantez.
Since shuttles resumed, some stops have been adjusted. For example, the stop at the Mexican Manhattan restaurant, which closed during the pandemic, has been moved to the Hampton Inn and Suites, known as shuttle stop eight.
Ticket prices for the shuttles, which operate from noon to 8 p.m., are the same as before: $19.50 for a one-day pass with unlimited rides, $28.50 for a three-day pass, and $30 for a monthly pass. Five shuttles are in service, which is typically more than needed for now, Talamantez said.
“As we evaluate and go into the summertime, we would have at least three shuttles operating on peak times,” said Talamantez. “That kind of eliminates a wait time. Instead of an hour, it’s probably about 45 minutes before another shuttle would be able to pick you up at that particular point.”