City and county officials have discussed the possibility of creating a public-transportation circulator system, either a bus or trolley, to ferry people to various attractions and businesses in downtown Sarasota.
Each plan would cost the city millions.
But a new player is beginning to make the rounds at City Hall, pushing a public-transportation plan that would be free for riders and would not cost taxpayers a dime.
For the past year, Jonathan Freed, with business partner Brenda Anderton, has been running a free transportation service on Siesta Key called Jonny’s Free Beach Rides. The company’s six-passenger electric cars run up and down the Key from The Old Salty Dog restaurant in the Village south to Turtles restaurant.
Freed’s service has become quite popular. “We’ve gone 22,500 miles in just under a year,” he said.
His drivers pay to drive the vehicles, similar to the manner in which a hairdresser rents a chair in a salon; the drivers make their money in tips.
The business doesn’t charge customers for the rides. It earns its income by charging businesses to place advertisements on the cars.
The same business model is being proposed for downtown Sarasota.
John Moran, operations manager for the Downtown Improvement District, is a big believer in the concept. He is facilitating meetings with the city’s top brass.
“There are 85 potential stops on Main Street, from Marina Jack to Kane’s Plaza,” said Moran.
The plan calls for six to eight electric vehicles running simultaneously — three going east and three going west. A passenger’s wait time would be about four minutes.
Freed met individually with city commissioners Aug. 4. His plan will get its first public airing during the Aug. 15 City Commission meeting, when commissioners will decide whether to include low-speed vehicles, such as Freed’s, in the pedicab ordinance, a necessary step in the process.
Jonathan Freed’s electric cars are street-legal and can be used on roads that accept speeds up to 35 mph. The cars themselves top out at 25 mph.
The plan is for the cars to operate the length of Main Street, which would have them crossing U.S. 301 and U.S. 41, both posted for speeds exceeding 35 mph.
The law states that low-speed vehicles such as Freed’s are allowed to legally cross roads that have speed limits higher than 35 mph.
Freed is proposing that he store and charge his vehicles in the Palm Avenue parking garage, which has electric-car charging ports.