Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Test of a Shuttle Option for Downtown Sarasota

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Test of a Shuttle Option for Downtown Sarasota

Article excerpt


For the last few years, the idea of a free ride in a low-speed cart has been figuratively circling the downtown area, looking for a place to park.

Last week it came around again, in the form of an electric cart with six seats making a test run through downtown.

It is not a new concept in downtown Sarasota, which is big enough to have parking problems but not big enough to support a trolley or rail system. A push to bring in a fleet of golf carts attracted a lot of attention two years ago, but fizzled.

Now, members of the Downtown Improvement District are trying to revive the idea and find financial backing for it. The test runs of a local firm's electric cart are only a preliminary step, said DID chairman Ernie Ritz.

If the DID is successful in helping to establish the cart service, it might also mean seeking city approval to expand the DID to cover its route throughout downtown.

That would be a big increase in the DID's territory in the city and would require at least two hearings at City Hall. But before anyone is willing to put a fleet of carts on the streets, Ritz said, questions have to be answered: Is this a good idea? Is there money? Is there interest?

The downtown business group is hoping to attract the attention of hotels and tourism agencies that would help promote and invest in some low-cost, low-impact downtown transportation, Ritz said.

"You go to Disney World, you can walk out of any hotel and there will be a whole lot of vehicles waiting to take you where you want to go," he said.

It is not quite that convenient to visit downtown Sarasota now, and some downtown merchants have been worried that parking will get worse before it gets better. In the next few years, some parking spaces will be at least temporarily lost to construction of the State Street Garage.

The carts would probably be run by a nonprofit, public-private partnership, Ritz said. …

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