Free Bay Runner trolley service launched this week between downtown Sarasota and Lido Key Beach

Vehicles to run from 8 a.m. to midnight seven days a week, including holidays

This graphic sat atop the City of Sarasota Government’s Facebook page on March 1. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Almost exactly four months after the Sarasota City Commission approved the contract for the service, on March 2, the Bay Runner trolley began its free excursions between downtown Sarasota and Lido Key Beach.

The official launch was at 8 a.m. that day, the City of Sarasota announced. The Bay Runner carries 28 passengers and is equipped with a wheelchair boarding lift.

“Live more, drive less!” city staff has written in multiple posts on the City of Sarasota Government Facebook page in recent days.

The open-air vehicles have 12 pre-determined stops, approximately two to three blocks apart, in pedestrian areas along Main Street, on St. Armands Circle and at the Lido Pavilion, a city news release noted. The trolley route’s endpoints will be the intersection of Main Street and School Avenue plus Ted Sperling Park at South Lido Beach. An additional stop will be added near Golden Gate Point when the U.S 41-Gulfstream Avenue roundabout has been completed, city staff has pointed out.

Hours of operation and headway times — the maximum amount of time a passenger should have to wait to catch the trolley — are as follows:

  • 8 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week, including holidays.
  • 20-minute headway time during peak hours and 30 minutes during off-peak hours.A Feb. 25 Facebook post on the City of Sarasota Government page notes that, during a “sneak peak” ride for city leaders and members of the news media that day, the Bay Runner took about 30 minutes to make a round trip between City Hall, on First Street in downtown Sarasota, and St. Armands Circle.

As city staff explained to the city commissioners last year, each trolley will be equipped with a device that will allow the driver to switch traffic signals from red to green, to facilitate Bay Runner operations.

“The transit schedule will be monitored and modified as necessary to provide efficient service,” the city news release adds.

On Nov. 1, the City Commission voted 4-1 to approve the approximately $4.4-million contract with CPR Medical Transport LLC of Washington, D.C. Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch was the board member who cast the “No” vote, saying she would have preferred a pilot program first to gauge demand for the service.

The goal of the Bay Runner’s operations “is to help alleviate traffic congestion between downtown Sarasota and the barrier islands by offering an easy, hassle-free alternative to an automobile,” the news release notes.

“If you can leave the car behind and let someone else do the driving at no cost, why wouldn’t you?” said Mayor Erik Arroyo in the release. “Siesta Key has had success with a trolley, and we expect Sarasota will, too,” Arroyo continued. “The Bay Runner will become a convenient, safe and fun way to get from downtown to St. Armands and Lido Beach for visitors and residents alike while naturally reducing the number of vehicles on the road.”

This map shows the Bay Runner’s route and stops. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

CPR Medical Transport also operates the free Siesta Key Breeze trolley. In July 2018, it won its Sarasota County contract for that service.

A September 2021 progress report produced by Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) offered one snapshot about that trolley’s popularity: Staff noted that ridership on the Breeze was 27% higher in May 2021 than in May 2019.

The City Commission partnered with the Downtown Improvement District (DID), the St. Armands Business Improvement District (BID), the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and city staff “to bring [the Bay Runner] to reality,” the city release notes. 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 program, the release explains.

“I’m very enthusiastic about the Bay Runner,” said City Commissioner Hagen Brody, who presented the trolley concept to the City Commission last year for its consideration, the release points out. “This is a critical component of our broader micro and multimodal transportation additions to the City of Sarasota and will hopefully make it easier and quicker to get around downtown and out to the island,” Brody added in the release.

The Bay Runner’s website suggests using the trolley to connect to The Legacy Trail, whose North Extension will end near Payne Park in downtown Sarasota; to “Commute to Work in Style” and to “Make Getting to the Beach a Breeze.”

The latter block on the website points out, “Bring along your beach gear — the Bay Runner has stops just steps from the beautiful white sands of Lido Beach.”

This image on the Bay Runner website references the app for trolley passengers. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

The Sarasota Bay Runner app will track real time information, including approximate arrival times,” the release notes. That app will be available via the Apple App Store, Google Play and https://sarasotabayrunner.com/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery. A QR code on Bay Runner stop signs directs users to the app as well, the release adds.

Siesta Key Breeze trolley riders have been using a similar app in recent years.

“Beach totes, shopping bags and other carry-ons that can easily fit within a passenger seating area will be encouraged,” the release notes, as city leaders hope people will use the trolley for transportation to and from the beach, shopping areas and dining establishments.

Each trolley is 30.5 feet long and 11.5 feet tall, a city fact sheet says. The vehicles have roll-down windows, so passengers may open and close them as needed, given weather conditions, the fact sheet also notes.

Complimentary paratransit service also will be available through advanced registration and scheduling, the city news release notes. Call 866-212-7771 for more information and to register for paratransit service.

Visit http://www.SarasotaBayRunner.com for updated trolley information.

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