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Sarasota Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021 2 months ago

Officials discuss regional approach to transportation programs

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A joint meeting with Longboat Key this month allowed city leaders to emphasize their desire to partner with neighboring governments on bikes, scooters and more.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

Despite years of work, city leaders have failed to achieve their goal of launching a water taxi program linking the mainland to the barrier islands, but officials aren’t giving up.

Even sooner, officials hope to make progress on another long-standing transportation initiative, launching a program that allows the public to rent bicycles (and possibly electric scooters, too).

These projects were all topics of discussion at a joint meeting between the city and the town of Longboat Key on Nov. 8. As city staff shared updates about transportation plans that could affect Sarasota’s island neighbors, officials expressed interest in finding opportunities for collaboration.

City Parking Manager Mark Lyons said staff envisions water taxis someday operating through Ken Thompson Park, Bayfront Park, St. Armands and the forthcoming The Bay Sarasota park. In 2019, the city approved spending $108,500 on a water taxi feasibility study to research the logistics of such a program, but officials have taken no action following the commission of that report. The city approved a pilot water taxi service in 2017, but the program never launched.

Although Longboat Mayor Ken Schneier and Town Manager Tom Harmer couldn’t speak to the optimal location for a hypothetical stop on Longboat Key, they said any water taxi program was of interest to them.

“We’re interested in staying involved with you and understanding what your research is showing to the extent that Longboat Key might be able to a participant, maybe even a landing point,” Schneier said.

Schneier said Ken Thompson Park might be the closest Sarasota could get if no public location on Longboat was viable. Harmer suggested private restaurants as a possible solution for getting water taxis to Longboat, mentioning the Shore Longboat Key and Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant as possible stops. 

“Even the Buccaneer Restaurant has floated the idea of becoming a water taxi stop,” Harmer said of the restaurant proposed for the middle of Longboat Key. 

As for potential bike share and electric scooter programs, Lyons said eight companies have approached the city about a partnership. He said the city planned to have the vehicles available for rental from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. with specific geofencing to control where the scooters could operate. In an email through a spokesperson, the city said staff is still in the process of negotiating the terms of a proposed agreement with a vendor for the bike and scooter programs. That agreement could go to the City Commission for review as soon as January.

City Commissioner Hagen Brody said he thought it was critical for the city to work with the town, other neighboring cities and Sarasota County on their bike and scooter share program. He said it wouldn’t make sense to have different programs in different jurisdictional areas.

“We all have locations where I think people would want to visit, so I really tried to keep an open dialogue with the town and other municipalities, and I’m encouraging staff to do the same on particularly the bike share and scooter share program,” Brody said.

Schneier said the bike share company Bird and another company have approached the town about a similar initiative, but he indicated an openness to working in partnership with the city if Longboat officials choose to pursue such a program.

“There’s no point of reinventing whatever wheel the city has invented, and that may even involve us collaborating with them on one provider, which would be great if we decide to do it at all,” Schneier said.

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