A six-seat golf-cart style electric vehicle is driving through the heart of Sarasota today, as various stakeholders are beginning to explore the feasibility of a transit system that would carry passengers to downtown businesses and hotels.
Today’s test ride of a potential downtown circulator vehicle dates back to a meeting held about three weeks ago, according to Downtown Improvement District Operations Manager John Moran. That's when a group of people — including merchants, private individuals, representatives from the city and Visit Sarasota County — gathered at City Hall to discuss concerns relating to the construction of the State Street parking garage.
At that meeting, people expressed a fear that business would be hurt by the loss of the 139-space surface lot at State Street and Lemon Avenue once construction on a garage begins in the summer. As solutions were discussed, one person mentioned a downtown circulator — a frequently proposed plan in the city, but one that has never been acted upon.
This particular proposal dates back two years, when Moran and Downtown Sarasota Alliance board member Peter Fanning first formulated the idea. The plan was relatively modest; the carts used would be street legal, but the speed would top out at around 25 miles per hour. The proposal was a cheaper alternative to other options that were floated, such as a trolley or streetcars.
Moran said the idea was now under consideration, but that funding remained a question. To determine how to fund it, he said, the first step was to find out how much the new transportation system would cost.
That’s what led to today’s trial run of a vehicle provided by the Sarasota company Cruise Car Inc. Bill Kics, a contract manager with Cruise Car, is driving the vehicle along a proposed route that travels along Main Street from U.S. 301 to the bayfront, along Palm Avenue from Ringling Boulevard to Cocoanut Avenue and along Cocoanut Avenue to Boulevard of the Arts.
The 4.5-mile route focuses on servicing people staying at hotels near downtown, extending along Island Park Drive to the Ritz-Carlton and down Boulevard of the Arts to Hotel Indigo and the Hyatt Regency. Moran said the route was subject to change, but that the philosophy behind it would most likely stay in tact.
“The idea was to be able to pick up and drop off people at the existing and proposed hotels,” Moran said. “Right now, there’s no convenient way to get around from those”
Kics is driving the route to determine just how long the battery-powered vehicles will last before needing to be recharged. Kics said that the battery life depended on a number of factors, including the terrain traveled along, the weight on board and the speed of the vehicle. Some places reported between 5 and 6 hours of battery life, while a country club that outfitted their vehicles with solar panels traveled 75 miles on one charge.
“It’s hard to say for sure what the life is unless you’re on site and somebody can watch,” Kics said.
Moran said the goal was to get a fleet of vehicles that picked up passengers along the route every five minutes. He estimated the cost of the vehicles at about $13,000 each, and guessed around ten might be necessary to ensure the ideal level of service. He said it was unlikely all the cars would be able to power through the 12-hour period during which the vehicles would potentially run, but that the goal was to max out the battery life to ensure a smooth circulation throughout the day.
“What we’re trying to do is avoid in-the-day recharging,” Moran said. “Going to heaven, these things would last a whole workday.”
For more information about the downtown circluator test drive, pick up a copy of Thursday's edition of the Sarasota Observer.
Contact David Conway at [email protected].