The county is accepting proposals from private vendors to operate a trolley service on Siesta Key, but the route likely won’t start running until March.
| 6:00 a.m. December 1, 2016
Siesta Key won’t receive its coveted trolley route for Christmas, but a company may be operating an open-air transit service as season picks up in 2017.
Sarasota County has started collecting bids from vendors for a pilot trolley service, which would stretch from Siesta Key Village to Turtle Beach, according to solicitation documents. County staff plans to award a six-month contract after the bidding closes Dec. 28, and the service is slated to start 30 days after the contract is finalized.
Rocky Burke, director of Sarasota County Area Transit, said a realistic timeline would have the trolley officially in operation in March. The county will pick the lowest responsive bidder to operate the transit service.
Per the preliminary documents, the route would make between 22 and 26 stops, depending on whether it is traveling northbound or southbound. Many of the proposed stops are located along Midnight Pass Road. If the service is successful, the county may add another six months to the contract and continue with the chosen transit firm month-by-month thereafter.
“We’ll be able to see what the ridership is like for a few months in season and for a few months during the summer,” Burke said.
The Siesta Key Village Association has been pushing for a trolley for at least the past 15 years to alleviate parking and traffic issues on the island. Burke said SCAT ridership numbers on Siesta Key have been underwhelming in the past, but businesses are hopeful the open-air service will be more enticing.
“They’re telling us they believe tourists and people that actually work on Siesta Key would prefer to have some sort of a trolley-type vehicle,” Burke said.
SKVA board member Russell Matthes, who co-owns Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar, said in a previous interview with the Sarasota Observer that businesses should reach out to condo owners to encourage ridership — even before the trolley gets rolling.
Eventually, Matthes hopes service on and off of the Key is added to the trolley route. For now, though, he’s focusing on ensuring any new transportation option attracts enough users to make expansion a possibility in the future.
“This is great news if we can get ridership out here,” he said.
Deputy Managing Editor David Conway contributed to this report.