Siesta Key business owners hope to finally move forward with plans to introduce an open-air trolley system on the island.
As traffic issues continue to vex Siesta Key residents and businesses, the Siesta Key Village Association is making another bid to bring trolleys to the Key.
The organization is meeting with Sarasota County Area Transportation on July 7 to discuss the possibility of creating an open-air trolley service on Siesta Key. Though the project is still in its preliminary stages, SCAT will be looking into applying for grants to fund the project.
According to a letter posted on Siesta Key Village Association’s website, the organization is pitching two routes with a connecting tram.
One would run from Southgate Mall to Siesta Key Village, then to Siesta Key Beach before returning to the mall. Another line would run from Gulf Gate Mall to the commercial area around Stickney Point Road and Midnight Pass road before heading to Siesta Key Beach. The tram would connect Siesta Key Village and the Stickney Point area.
The idea isn’t new. In fact, it’s at least 15 years old, but funding issues have historically hindered the county from moving forward with any plans.
However, SKVA board member Russell Matthes thinks the traffic problem on the Key has become too severe to ignore.
“I don’t think it’s an option anymore,” Matthes said. “It’s a must-do thing.”
Yet there are some who think the traffic on the Key make the possibility of a trolley impractical.
Siesta Key Free Rides owner Jerry Aluisio thinks the congestion will keep trolleys from running on time, which will prompt potential riders to opt for the free-ride services on the island instead.
There are already two SCAT busses running routes on the Key, and Aluisio thinks that should be the extent of the county’s involvement on Siesta.
“If there was a market for it, it would be handled with free enterprise,” Aluisio said.
There have been attempts at starting privately owned trolley services on Siesta Key. Matthes owned and operated a scheduled trolley service in partnership with SKVA from 2005 to 2008. Matthes says it wasn't a lack of interest that caused him to suspend his service, but a lack of county support in terms of signage and access to pick-up areas.
Siesta Key Best Western owner Mike LePore also ran a trolley from 2010 to 2011. After closing that operation due to a lack of use, LePore bought Jonny’s Free Beach Rides, which was the first free-ride service on the key. He has owned the business for two years and doesn’t see the demand for any more mass transit options.
“There have been lots of attempts at different transportation options out there, and the ones that have been the most successful have been the free rides,” LePore said.
But SKVA cites successful trolleys in neighboring communities like Clearwater and Fort Myers as evidence the service could be a practical solution to Siesta’s traffic woes.
“For some reason, it’s a puzzle this county can’t seem to figure out, but I think they just need to ask some folks in other counties,” SKVA Vice President Mark Smith said.
Smith is hopeful the proposal will gain more traction this time. He sees a growing need for a sustainable solution to the Key’s traffic issues with the addition of more nearby mainland projects like Benderson Development’s Siesta Promenade. Ideally, he would like visitors to get around on the key without their cars.
“We have the free rides and the pedicabs, which are great, but we really need something that’s more formalized,” Smith said.
Sunride Pedicabs owner and SKVA board member Glen Cappetta isn't worried about how a trolley may impact his business. He thinks the addition is long overdue.
"If the county wants to take what they have, this gem, and develop it into a world class island paradise, the trolley is the next logical step," Capetta said.
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