The city is nearing an agreement with a private operator to run a new transit service offering on-demand rides in downtown Sarasota.
Nothing is final yet, but if everything breaks right, John Moran believes there could be a new transit service running throughout downtown by next month.
The city is negotiating with The Gotcha Group, a Charleston, S.C.-based transportation company, to operate a fleet of downtown circulator vehicles. Moran, the operations manager of the Downtown Improvement District, said a contract could be finalized as soon as this week.
For a two-year period, the city would be responsible for funding the circulator vehicles, which would operate without a charge for riders. By year three, the Gotcha Group would depend on advertisements wrapped around the vehicles to fund and sustain the service.
“We’re essentially kick-starting a private venture,” Moran said.
Initially, the city began negotiations with a Delray Beach, Fla.-based service called The Downtowner. That company ultimately determined it wasn’t a good match for what the city was seeking, and city staff moved onto negotiations with its second choice, The Gotcha Group. The Gotcha Group primarily focuses on offering free rides to students on college campuses.
Any agreement is subject to final approval from the City Commission. Moran, who has been a leading advocate for creating a downtown circulator service for several years, said he hoped to get a contract on the commission’s agenda next month.
“I sense we’re getting close to a deal,” Moran said at Tuesday’s Downtown Improvement District meeting. “The timing is such that we could have vehicles on the street in January.”
Also at Tuesday’s Downtown Improvement District meeting, the group committed $150,000 toward the installation of three gateway signs at key entrances to the downtown core.
Under the proposal, the signs would say “Downtown Sarasota” and arch over the street. The DID has targeted three intersections for installing the signs:
- Main Street and U.S. 301
- Main Street and U.S. 41
- Lemon Avenue and Fruitville Road
The city has discussed installing roundabouts at the latter two intersections. Still, the DID intends to install its signs as soon as possible, and would pay to relocate them during construction if necessary.
Although board member Ron Soto expressed some concern about installing the signs outside of the boundaries of the taxing district, the rest of the board was confident the project’s impact would be felt within the DID.
“I think the whole downtown’s going to benefit,” DID board member Steve Seidensticker said.