Even after peak of tourist season, city’s planning director reports that trolley ridership remains strong
The Bay Runner trolley and the e-scooter/bicycle rental-sharing program that the City of Sarasota launched early this year have won the city an Award of Excellence for Innovation from the International Parking & Mobility Institute (IPMI), the city has announced.
“Sarasota’s award submission received the highest marks of all entries in the category Innovation in a Mobility, Transportation or Parking Program,” a city news release points out. The city’s programs are featured in the IPMI’s June edition of Parking & Mobility magazine (pages 46-47), the release adds.
“The IPMI is the largest association in the world for parking, transportation and mobility professionals,” the release notes.
The Bay Runner launched in early March with the slogan “Live more, drive less,” while the scooter/bicycle program “rolled out just two weeks later with much anticipation,” the news release says. “Both initiatives were welcomed enthusiastically,” the release adds, with riders opting to leave their cars behind “and enjoy a fun experience while traveling to the beach, shopping, dining or work.”
“The motto of ‘Live more, drive less’ is perfectly put into practice with this experiential journey,” commented an award juror, the release notes. “Transporting employees, residents, and tourists between the beach and downtown in a stress-free, fun manner, will have huge and lasting benefits to both riders and the City alike,” the juror added.
The Bay Runner is a free, open-air trolley with daily service from 8 a.m. to midnight. It operates from downtown Sarasota, through St. Armands Circle, to Lido Beach and back every 20 to 30 minutes, the city news release points out.
The e-scooter/bicycle rental program, provided by the company Veo through a user mobile app, “is reporting record demand in Sarasota,” the release also notes.
The section of the June magazine focusing on the city initiatives adds, “Based on conservative estimates, the Bay Runner will reduce the annual number of vehicles by nearly 70,000.” The article also points out, “Print and TV advertising, a custom brochure, and strategic placement of rack card displays helped spread the word about the trolley, and the ringing of its bell at each stop signals its welcome presence.”
Within the first two months, 41,000 people rode the Bay Runner, and 37,600 individuals rented a scooter or bicycle for a short distance trip, helping to reduce traffic, the city release adds.
“The two programs are working together,” said Mark Lyons, general manager of parking and mobility for the city, in the release. “We see people get off the trolley and get on a scooter and vice versa for the first or last mile of their trip. People are getting to their destination in an enjoyable, convenient way, and that’s making these mobility initiatives meaningful and impactful,” Lyons added in the release. “We’re honored to be recognized with the IPMI’s Award of Excellence. Many people and agencies have supported these programs, and this award is the result of that commitment.”
The Bay Runner became a reality thanks to a partnership involving the city, the Downtown Improvement District (DID), the St. Armands Business Improvement District (BID) and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), the release explains. In addition to city economic development funds, and a $1.5-million FDOT grant, the DID and BID each allocated $50,000 toward the initial three-year trolley program, the release continues “The service is operated by CPR Medical Transportation, which also operates the Siesta Key Breeze open-air trolley.
More details about the scooters and bikes
Veo offers e-scooters and bicycles for rent in designated parking corrals on rights of way throughout the city limits, the release points out. “The daily micro-mobility demand in Sarasota has surpassed Veo’s expectations,” the release notes, with 1,000 rides just on Memorial Day.
During its regular meeting on Jan. 18, the City Commission unanimously approved the two-year Veo contract. As part of a presentation on the proposal, Lyons pointed out that the company, which is based in Chicago, “operates in Florida markets and, most notably, in the St. Petersburg area, with excellent references.”
Alex Keating, Veo’s director of public policy and partnership, told the commissioners that the company had been operating micromobility programs since 2017. While that was a short period for some industries, he added, the timeline reflected what could be considered old age or middle age in the micromobility world.
Moreover, Keating explained that Veo is the only such company that designs, manufactures and operates all of its devices, which gives Veo considerable control over its supply process and supply chain quality, along with the ability to meet “different needs with different device types in markets.”
The value of ‘innovative and effective mobility options’
“These innovative and effective mobility options are among the reasons why Sarasota is the top city to live within Florida and one of the best cities in the entire United States,” said Mayor Erik Arroyo in the city news release. “This is how our residents and visitors want to get around our great city. We have an impressive, professional team that worked hard to transform mobility ideas into reality,” he added in the release, “and we’re excited their efforts have been recognized by their peers internationally with this award.”
The trolley and micromobility options initially were identified through public comments as city leaders worked to develop their first transportation master plan, Sarasota in Motion, which the City Commission adopted in 2020, the release explains.
Information about the Bay Runner, including a route map, mobile app, accessibility and parking options, may be found at https://sarasotabayrunner.com/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery. The Bay Runner mobile app, which allows for real-time trolley tracking, can be downloaded through the App Store and Google Play, the release notes.
Educational outreach is a focal point for Veo, the release continues, with the micromobility vendor hosting community events, for example, and sending safety reminders to registered users. Learn about Veo’s Sarasota service at http://www.VeoRide.com/Sarasota. Frequently-asked-questions documents (FAQs) about the e-scooter/rental program are available at www.SarasotaFL.gov.
Highly positive responses
On April 13, Jan Thornburg, senior communications manager for the City of Sarasota, sent City Manager Marlon Brown and Deputy City Manager Pat Robinson an email that described the initial public response to the Bay Runner and the Veo program. “It was a busy month transitioning from the Bay Runner launch to the Veo launch while maintaining strong Bay Runner messaging,” Thornburg wrote. “First month trolley ridership was a staggering 13,800 individuals — without paid advertising [her emphasis]. Earned media and consistent, frequent no-cost social media messaging (48 posts with a reach of nearly 200,000) generated extensive interest in the Bay Runner and positive word of mouth experiences fueled more interest and ridership,” she continued. “Simultaneously, extensive messaging was produced and shared for the Veo scooter and bicycle sharing initiative.”
In an April 16 email about the Bay Runner, a city resident wrote the following to city commissioners: “We have ridden the Bay Runner Trolley several times in the past two weeks. We had visiting family with 5 young children under 5. We were a total of 10. Mr. Tommy [the driver] was so friendly to us and all the other passengers that boarded and disembarked his trolley. He played great music and you could tell he loved his job and getting to know his passengers. Mr. Tommy, thank you for the rides and your great personality.”
In his regular updates to senior city staff, Planning Director Steve Cover also has provided routine updates on the trolley.
On April 1, Cover wrote, “Held meeting with the vendor, and everything seems to be working well. Minor adjustments to signage and app corrections are being planned. The ridership numbers continue to rise and the public feedback continues to be very positive.”
Then, on April 29, Cover’s report included this information: “The ridership numbers continue to rise and the public feedback continues to be very positive.”
On May 13, Cover cautioned that while the ridership numbers for the trolley remained strong, “We’re watching ridership very closely as we exit Peak Season.”
However, in his June 3 update, Cover wrote, “The ridership numbers continue to be strong and the public feedback continues to be very positive. We did see a minor drop in ridership after pulling out of peak season, but this shows that ridership is still very strong.”
Then, in his June 17, report, Cover did note, “Ridership was slightly down for May, but the numbers were still solid for the first month out of peak season.”