County’s trolley service between SRQ airport and downtown Sarasota expected to launch in late January 2024

Commissioners set fares for route

Image from the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport website

During their regular meeting on June 13, the Sarasota county commissioners formally gave the county’s Transit Department staff the go-ahead to purchase trolleys for the launch of a service that would circulate between the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) and downtown Sarasota.

When the board members first discussed the idea with Jane Grogg, director of Transit — in April — Commissioner Joe Neunder said, “This is a project that will add tremendous value in our community. … Sarasota’s on the map. … We’re anticipating growth in visitation.”

“If you get that [route] going by next Thursday,” Commissioner Michael Moran joked on April 25 with Grogg, “that’d be great.”

Finally, on Oct. 24, the commissioners unanimously approved the fares for that service, which is expected to begin in late January, as County Administrator Jonathan Lewis reported to them in an Oct. 24 email.

In response to a Sarasota News Leader request for information, county Media Relations Officer Sara Nealeigh pointed out in an Oct. 27 email that the Transit staff expects stops along the airport route to be served every 30 minutes.

The stops will be as follows, Nealeigh added:

• Boulevard of the Arts at Quay Commons.
• Ritz Carlton Drive atFirst Street and at Watergate Drive.
• Second Street at U.S. 41.
• Ringling Boulevard at Palm Avenue.
• Palm Avenue at Cocoanut Avenue.
• Boulevard of the Arts between U.S. 41 and Cocoanut Avenue.

This map shows the planned trolley route between the airport and downtown Sarasota, with the stops illustrated by markers. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In his Oct. 24 email to the commissioners, County Administrator Lewis attached a PDF showing the “wrap” with the Transit Department’s Breeze logo that will be used on the trolleys for the airport service. He also noted, “Staff has assigned a Route number to the downtown to airport service and named it for better recognition and marketing. It will be known as the 76 Flyer.”

The Breeze fare item was listed on the Oct. 24 agenda as a Presentation Upon Request; none of the commissioners sought staff remarks before Moran made the motion to adopt the formal resolution establishing the fares, and Commissioner Mark Smith seconded it.
The standard fare will be $2, but persons age 65 and older will pay just $1, a county staff memo said.

That $1 cost also will apply to riders who are on Medicare or have a disability.

These graphics show the Breeze ‘wrap’ for the new trolleys. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The staff memo, which was included in the agenda packet, pointed out that staff had “performed a comparative analysis with other transit agency airport service,” including a review of the expense of “Transportation Network Companies” — such as Uber and Lyft — to SRQ from downtown Sarasota. “[Staff] considered the cost per trip of regular bus service in light of this direct service with fewer stops.”

The memo then noted that while most of the other agencies providing airport service had fares equal to those of the regular bus service, or less, “the nature of the direct service on specialty vehicles was considered as a higher value service.”

Further, the memo explained, “In preparation for the new service, fare cards with electronic magnetic data strips that are read in the

Transit fareboxes are being procured. Given the lead time on the procurement and programming of the cards, staff is proposing to implement the new fare amount on March 1, 2024. Until that date, the standard fixed route bus prices of $1.50 for regular trips and $0.75 for those qualifying for half-fare would be in place. Additionally, staff has solicited for a mobile fare payment option on Transit vehicles. … The mobile fare payment option will allow riders on all Transit vehicles to pay with a mobile device or cash.”

In his Oct. 24 email to the commissioners, County Administrator Lewis also pointed out that the first trolley, which was manufactured in 2022, “arrived at Transit last Thursday, October 19. It is being inspected and prepared for wrapping. Onboard technology hardware will be added, upon receipt from our vendor.”

Then he noted, “The 2023 Trolley is in production now. There have been some supply delays for this trolley. We expect to receive it in mid- to late December.”