With its first year almost reaching 250,000 riders, SCAT plans to firm up a three-year contract for trolley operations.
As the Siesta Key Breeze Trolley nears one year of operation, it also nears a quarter-million riders, according to numbers from Sarasota County Area Transit.
Kendra Keiderling, marketing, communication and customer service supervisor for SCAT, said that as far as ridership goes, the trolley is the county’s No. 1 route. The free route covers Beach Road and Midnight Pass Road from Siesta Village to Turtle Beach Park.
“A lot of people had their doubts,” County Commissioner Al Maio said, describing a group of community members that pushed the open-air trolley idea for years. “Our small group had no doubts, but I think even we are surprised at the volume of ridership in the first year.”
The trolley saw an average of about 17,000 riders a month, with April 2017 ridership climbing to 37,000. A majority of those users were visitors.
“The residents do use it, but the tourists love it,” Keiderling said.
Maio credits the trolley with reducing the number of car movements on the Key. If there are two people in each car, that’s 125,000 times cars didn’t move because people rode the trolley, he said.
Between March 2017 and January, the most recent numbers available, 190,000 people had ridden the trolley. Keiderling and Maio expect to hit 250,000 riders by March 20, the trolley’s first birthday.
Now that its first year is finished, SCAT extended its contract with Ride Right LLC for another six months, and is putting out a request for proposals to solidify a three-year contract with a provider.
With the new contract, Keiderling said, it would be nice to extend weekend hours, on Fridays and Saturdays, until midnight, as well as extend hours for some holidays or special events. She hopes to get bids from a number of service providers. Last year, only one company bid.
“This time, because it’s such a success, who knows? We might get more bids,” she said. “It’ll be interesting”
It costs almost $900,000 annually to fund the Breeze Trolley. SCAT provides half the money, with the rest coming from federal grants. Keiderling is confident SCAT will be able to secure continued funding.