Bay Runner trolley in Sarasota nearly notches total of 364,000thriders since its March 2022 launch

Veo scooters and bikes used for more than 284,000 trips from March 2022 through April of this year

This is the cover photo the City of Sarasota featured on its Facebook page on March 1, 2022, showing two Bay Runners. Image courtesy City of Sarasota via Facebook

The latest sets of data regarding riders on the City of Sarasota’s free Bay Runner trolley and the users of the city’s Veo scooters and bikes show continued success of those programs, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.

On May 8, after receiving the figures from city Planning Director Steve Cover — who had passed them along from Parking Division General Manager Broxton Harvey — City Manager Marlon Brown responded via email to Cover, “Awesome numbers,” adding that he was copying the city commissioners, “so that they are aware of these numbers,” as well.

Through April, city staff had documented 363,906 riders on the Bay Runner. The tally of Veo trips was 284,175 through the same month, an Excel spreadsheet says.

For March 2022 — the first month both the trolley and the bikes and scooters were in service — the number of Bay Runner riders was 14,267 the report notes.

The largest figure for a given month for the Bay Runner has been 21,598, recorded in March 2023, the spreadsheet shows. The second highest count has been 21,465, in March of this year.

March typically is the busiest month for tourism in Sarasota County, as documented by Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates and her staff through “bed tax” revenue reports. (See the related article in this issue.)

The lowest monthly total the News Leader found was 7,251, recorded in September 2022. That month is traditionally one of the slowest for tourism in the county — again, as documented by the Tax Collector’s Office and reports generated for the county’s tourism office, Visit Sarasota County.

The Bay Runner was launched on March 2, 2022. Marketed with the tagline, “Live more, drive less,” the trolley operates between downtown Sarasota and Lido Key Beach. An app allows riders to track the vehicle’s progress in real time, as its webpages point out.

The trolley can transport as many as 28 persons, city staff has said.

Just months after it began its route — July 2, 2022 — the Bay Runner set a new single-day record, as noted in a staff email at that time. The tally was 850. Then Parking Manager Mark Lyons added that for the three-day July Fourth holiday period that year — Saturday/Sunday/Monday — the total number of riders was 2,253.

As noted in a city staff document provided to the City Commission for its regular meeting on July 5, 2022, the objectives for the Bay runner were to relieve traffic congestion on State Road 789 while the Gulfstream Avenue roundabout was underway; provide a transit option for accessibility to shopping on St. Armands Circle and in downtown Sarasota, as well as recreational activities and employee opportunities; and, in general “support the City’s Transportation Vision for a safe and active community with diverse transportation choices.”

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has provided funding to support the trolley for its first three years of operations: $1,590,246, another July 5, 2022 City Commission meeting document said.

These are the data that city staff provided to the Sarasota city commissioners. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

For the Veo program, the month with the largest number of trips so far has been May 2022, with 16,573. April 2022 was in second place, with 16,349. The lowest monthly count that the News Leader found was for March 2022: 4,339. The next lowest figure was recorded in January of this year: 7,594.

The Veo program is part of the city’s Sarasota In Motion initiative, the city website explains. “For anyone at least 18 years old,” the website adds, “using Veo can be a breeze by simply parking at one of the city’s great parking structures and then locating a nearby scooter or bike parking area.” Veo is the name of the company that provides the scooters and bicycles.

This is a Veo scooter. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

The only commissioner response to the data that the News Leader found in the city’s public folder after City Manager Brown sent the report to the commissioners came from Debbie Trice. The same day that Brown sent out the Excel report, she wrote, “Yes, impressive numbers, but the ‘Total’ figure is misleading. It should be labeled ‘Cumulative’ instead. Otherwise, it appears that ridership is growing month-to-month when, in fact, there are ups and downs with some of the monthly ridership peaks in 2022 and 2023. Mislabeling may cause us to skip trying to understand the month-to-month changes.”

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