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Sarasota Thursday, Mar. 8, 2018 9 months ago

Downtown circulator adjusts operations

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After initially cutting back its hours of operation, the i-Ride Sarasota service is adjusting to additional resident feedback.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

In late February, Sarasota resident Christine Schlesinger sent an email to City Commissioner Liz Alpert, concerned about a change to the i-Ride Sarasota service she had just learned about.

With a $338,000 city subsidy, i-Ride, a free, on-demand downtown circulator, launched in March 2017. The service initially ran daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. But toward the end of 2017, i-Ride operator Gotcha Group alerted the city it wasn’t seeing much activity after 8 p.m. and requested a cutback to the hours of operation.

When the reported ridership numbers continued to lag in January and February, the city eventually agreed to allow the service to end at 8 p.m. from Sunday through Thursday. Although the city determined the data supported the change, Schlesinger thought it was a misstep.

“That’s a death blow to the service,” Schlesinger wrote. “Who’s going to use it to go to town if they can’t get back after the concert or dinner or play?”

She wasn’t alone. City Parking Manager Mark Lyons said the city received a high enough volume of resident complaints to reverse its decision — in part, at least.

I-Ride Sarasota now operates from noon to 11 p.m. daily. From Sunday through Thursday, the service will run just one vehicle from 8-11 p.m. On Friday and Saturday, three vehicles will operate during that window.

Despite the cutback, Gotcha Group thinks i-Ride has become an integral part of transit in downtown Sarasota. The Gotcha Group highlighted that the service has provided more than 47,000 rides since it launched.

“I-Ride has been incredibly successful, and we’re thrilled the community has embraced the system as much as they have,” Anne Morgan, Gotcha Group’s vice president of client service, wrote in an email. “We see i-Ride as a long-term transportation solution for the City of Sarasota. Based on ridership, we’d say the residents and visitors agree with us!”

Lyons said the service will continue to refine its operations as it gathers more information about the Sarasota market.

“There’s always a sweet spot that needs to be established on schedules that makes sure we meet the ridership demands and still remain operationally viable,” Lyons said.

City staff also said it would continue to work with the Gotcha Group to ensure residents can easily use the service. Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown said the city had received some complaints about calls for service not getting picked up, and he said staff is attempting to clarify any issues with the operator.

“There seems to be a gap in terms of the information we’re getting,” Brown said.

At the same time, city staff is optimistic about the future of the service. Planning Director Steve Cover said staff would like to see it expand outside of the downtown area, strengthening the transit options throughout the city.

“We’re anxious to see what the next year brings and how we can deepen its use even further,” Lyons said.

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