New county trolley service between SRQ airport and downtown Sarasota expected to be launched this week

Ceremony held on Feb. 5

County Commissioner Mark Smith prepares to cut the ribbon, formally launching the new Breeze service. Joining him are (from left) Assistant County Administrator Brad Johnson; Erin Duggan, president and CEO of Visit Sarasota County; Jane Grogg, director of Sarasota County Transit; County Administrator Jonathan Lewis; and Mark Stuckey, executive vice president and chief of staff of the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport. Photo courtesy Sarasota County

On the afternoon of Feb. 5 in downtown Sarasota, the county’s Transit staff celebrated the launch of what has been christened the 76 Flyer, a trolley service that will operate between the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) and eight hotels in the city of Sarasota.

As County Commissioner Mark Smith pointed out during his remarks, it was only about 10 months ago that Jane Grogg, director of Sarasota County Transit, appeared before the commissioners to propose the trolley route.

“It boggles my mind,” he told the audience, to think how much time and effort went into making the 76 Flyer a reality in such a short space of time.

On April 25, 2023, Grogg won the board members’ enthusiastic endorsement of her proposal. She noted that day that, during county budget workshops in March and June 2022, she had talked with the commissioners about the concept of a direct Transit route between the airport and SRQ, which is only about 4 miles along U.S. 41.

“We noticed that the vehicle chosen is very important,” Grogg said on April 25, 2023, pointing to the success of the trolleys that operate between Turtle Beach Park and Morton’s Siesta Market in Siesta Key Village. “Tourists seem to be attracted to that type of service,” Grogg said.

The trolleys circulating between SRQ and downtown Sarasota would be branded as “Breeze” vehicles, she added, in keeping with the name used on the Siesta Key trolleys.

“If you get that [route] going by next Thursday,” Commissioner Michael Moran joked to Grogg, “that’d be great.” After waiting for laughter to subside, Moran added, “We’re all in. … People are going to be very attracted to this.”

The 76 Flyer formally was due to begin its runs on Feb. 9, Grogg told those gathered on Feb. 5 for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

As a county news release explains, “Route 76 — promoted as the 76 Flyer — will be served by a nostalgic trolley equipped with interior luggage racks. Riders can expect to enjoy an uninterrupted trip along U.S. 41 with service to the Hyatt Regency Sarasota, The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota, Embassy Suites by Hilton Sarasota, Aloft Sarasota, Art Ovation Hotel, voco Sarasota and The Sarasota Modern, every 30 minutes.”

On Dec. 4, 2023, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis emailed the commissioners a photo of the first trolley that the county had purchased, telling him he thought they would like to see the Breeze design on it. At that time, Lewis added, staff was awaiting delivery of the second trolley. Therefore, he wrote, “[We] do not have a confirmed date for beginning route.”

This is the photo that County Administrator Jonathan Lewis emailed the commissioners in early December. Photo courtesy Sarasota County

During his Feb. 5 remarks at the ceremony, Commissioner Smith, a long-time resident of Siesta Key, noted that the Breeze trolley on the island “has become an iconic part of the Siesta Key Experience.”

This graph shows the latest ridership statistics for the Siesta Key Breeze. Image courtesy Sarasota County Transit

He also pointed out that data that the Transit staff had collected showed that more than 3 million visitors come to the county each year, “and 33% of them stay in hotels in downtown Sarasota.” Moreover, he continued, half of those visitors arrive at SRQ.

Further, Smith noted the record number of passengers that the airport served in 2023: 4.3 million. Many of those people rent cars just to drive to their hotels, he continued. “Offering a [Transit] route that caters to these visitors is important”: It will alleviate traffic congestion, which remains a major concern for county residents, as shown through the years in the responses to the county’s Citizen Opinion Survey, Smith explained.

“Staff has been critical on all fronts” in making the new trolley launch possible early this year, Grogg said during her Feb. 5 remarks. Members of the Transit Department have been involved in a multitude of pursuits, she continued — from planning the route and stops to procuring and preparing the trolleys to designing promotional materials.

Grogg also noted that the Erin Duggan, president and CEO of Visit Sarasota County, the county’s tourism office, and Duggan’s team had provided the county support in the planning for the 76 Flyer and in regard to promoting it.

Further, Grogg pointed to the new construction underway at SRQ. “We will soon have an improved ground transportation area,” she said, “where you’ll be able to find the 76 Flyer every day from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.”

The county news release about the service notes that passengers “should expect an introductory cash fare of $1.50, which will be in effect through Feb. 29. The standard $2 fare will begin March 1.”

Additionally, the release says, “Riders can track the trolley’s location in the Breeze Rider app.”

This aerial map shows the location of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel (far left), as well as the sites of the Embassy Suites and the Aloft hotels in downtown Sarasota. Image from Google Maps

The release also notes, “The launch of the 76 Flyer comes on the heels of an expansion to Breeze’s Downtown/Lido Key/Longboat Key OnDemand zone. Once they’ve settled into their hotels, visitors and residents staying in the downtown area can use the Breeze OnDemand rideshare service to travel to shopping and dining destinations downtown, on St. Armand’s Circle and Longboat Key, or to recreation areas like Lido Beach and Ted Sperling Park.”

Following the Feb. 5 ribbon cutting, the attendees were invited aboard the 76 Flyer for what Grogg estimated would be a 15-minute ride through the areas of downtown Sarasota that the trolleys will serve.