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Downtown circulator revs up for season

Seven months after launching, those involved with i-Ride Sarasota are optimistic about the free transit service's chances at succeeding.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. October 26, 2017
  • Sarasota
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Gotcha Group CEO Sean Flood is confident in his company’s ability to operate a transit service, but he admits moving into Sarasota represented a new challenge, demographics-wise.

The Gotcha Group runs i-Ride Sarasota, the free downtown circulator that launched in March. The city committed $338,000 toward the service for its first two years, hopeful it could become self-sustaining afterward.

Although city officials were excited about the prospect of a downtown transportation option that could get people out of cars, Flood said the first few months would be used to evaluate the best way to serve the Sarasota market.

“We’ve primarily focused on universities and university towns,” Flood said. “Partnering with Sarasota, we had good expectations, but didn’t 100% know what to expect.”

Seven months into its partnership with the city, Flood says his expectations have been exceeded. In the six full months the city and Gotcha Group have measured, i-Ride has averaged just fewer than 3,400 riders a month. That’s largely been outside of the peak tourist season, which has Flood excited about what the next few months could bring.

Another metric for i-Ride’s success is the number of advertisers that have bought space on the side of the six-seat electric vehicles. That’s the path to self-sufficiency, offsetting the expense of operating a fleet of seven vehicles for 12 hours per day. This has been an even bigger area of success for Sarasota, Flood said.

The company operating i-Ride Sarasota has been most impressed with the local interest in advertising on the vehicles.
The company operating i-Ride Sarasota has been most impressed with the local interest in advertising on the vehicles.

Gotcha Group expected to initially rely on national advertisers for the i-Ride vehicles. It didn’t expect local investment for eight or nine months after launching. Almost immediately, however, the company discovered strong demand from local businesses.

“The main thing is the consistency of having the vehicles out,” Flood said. “The local retailers are seeing it in real time and understand the value of having their ads circulating throughout the day.”

The i-Ride fleet averages between 12 to 14 advertisers at a time, Flood said. That puts the company on track to operate free of subsidy after the city’s two-year investment.

Headed toward the new year, Flood is optimistic even more riders will use the service. There’s room for adjustments as it goes through its first season: The company’s agreement with the city gives the company flexibility to adjust the number of cars it has on the street during different times of the day.

The company is focused on making sure wait times remain between five and 10 minutes. And, it’s getting ready to launch a new app in November. If things go really well, i-Ride could potentially expand its fleet or broaden its operation beyond its downtown boundaries, Flood said.

It’s reaching out to downtown condominiums and hotels to raise awareness of the service, but Flood thinks seeing the cars on the street is the best advertising tool available to i-Ride.

“The biggest way to make people aware of the service is the fact that the vehicles are out,” he said. “We encourage and train our drivers to really be brand ambassadors.”

Still, the city remains excited about i-Ride’s potential and intends to promote the circulator during season, Parking Manager Mark Lyons said. Increasingly confident in how the service has launched, those involved with i-Ride are hopeful the transportation option is en route to becoming a fixture in downtown Sarasota.

“We want to make sure we have a good footing,” Lyons said. “In the next couple of months, you’ll probably hear more about i-Ride from us.”


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