FDOT agrees to provide three more years of funding for Bay Runner, based on operation’s success

Grants to continue through 2027 state fiscal year

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has notified the City of Sarasota that, given the success of the Bay Runner, it will provide another three years of grants to the city to keep the trolley running.

Launched on March 2, 2022, the free Bay Runner circulates between downtown Sarasota and Lido Key. Passengers do not pay a fee to take a ride on it.

In a July 12 letter to City Manager Marlon Brown, John M. Kubler, interim secretary of District One, in which the city is located, pointed out that FDOT typically provides funding for such projects for only three years. Thus, he added, “[I]t would normally be the City’s responsibility to continue the project; however, considering the ridership, your other funding partners, and the City’s commitment to the service, the Department can propose additional funding in state fiscal year (SFY) 2025 through state fiscal year (SFY) 2027.”

Kubler did note that he was responding to the city’s request for continued financial support for the trolley.

The other funding partners are the Downtown Improvement District (DID) and the St. Armands Business Improvement District (BID).

Then Kubler noted the proposed funding, as follows:

  • SFY 2025 — $530,082.
  • SFY 2026 — $371,057.
  • SFY 2027 — $259,740.

FDOT provided an initial grant of $1.5 million for the Bay Runner, spread over three years. The DID and BID both allocated $50,000 to help cover the operation’s expenses for the same period.

Early in the letter, Kubler wrote, “All indications have shown great success of the service and a transformation of the area’s transportation offerings. Congratulations to the City of Sarasota for its vision in providing alternative means to the residents and visitors of the City.”

He added that FDOT staff members expect the Bay Runner’s ridership numbers to continue to increase “as the service matures and the City, with its partners, continues to market and advertise the service.”
Moreover, he noted that the Bay Runner, in traversing the city, “adds a unique charm to an already vibrant and enriched urban area.”

In the email to Brown in which she attached the letter, Michelle S. Peronto, administrator of FDOT’s District One Transit Programs Division, wrote, “We look forward to continuing to work with the City on this exciting project.”

After Brown forwarded the information to the city commissioners, Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch responded, “Great news!”

Commissioner Debbie Trice also replied to Brown: “Wonderful news! Congratulations!”

Trice added, “Our success with [the Bay Runner] should trigger more pilots that will reduce traffic and demand for additional parking while supporting economic development.”

On June 23, Planning Director Steven Cover noted in an email to city leaders, “We exceeded last year’s [passenger] numbers for March, April and May by 13,536 riders.”

In response to a question from Commissioner Ahearn-Koch, Cover provided detailed figures for those three months:

  • March — 21,598.
  • April — 18,005.
  • May — 15,027.

Those compare to the following numbers for the same months in 2022:

  • March — 14,705.
  • April — 14,291.
  • May — 12,536.

This year, when the Bay Runner marked its first anniversary, city staff reported that it had transported nearly 150,000 passengers in its first 12 months of service.

In the city news release about that milestone, Planning Director Cover said, “The popularity of the Bay Runner is greater than we could have imagined.”

His department’s parking, mobility and transportation teams “implemented the City Commission’s vision of a free shuttle service to help alleviate traffic congestion between downtown and Lido Beach,” the release explained.

“People in Sarasota truly want to live more and drive less,” Cover added in that release, referencing the primary marketing tagline for the trolley. “The Bay Runner is a unique experiential service that is relaxing, fun and helps get vehicles off the road and reduce emissions in our beautiful coastal community,” Cover noted.

The Bay Runner carries 28 passengers and can transport bicycles. It also is equipped with a wheelchair boarding lift, city staff points out.

CPR Medical Transport LLC of Washington, D.C., operates the Bay Runner. That company also handles Sarasota County’s Siesta Key Breeze trolley, which was established in March 2017.