BRADENTON BEACH – City officials and business owners in and around the Bridge Street business district agree that a parking shuttle program is a good idea.
But no one has stepped forward yet and offered to acquire and operate the electric trams needed to operate a pilot program for a park and ride shuttle service that utilizes county-owned parking spaces Cortez Beach and the north end of Coquina Beach.
These matters were discussed at a special CRA meeting on Friday, Feb. 21.
The half dozen or so business owners who attended Friday’s meeting are also members of the Bradenton Beach Area Merchants association which has expressed support for the parking tram program but no desire to run it.
City Attorney Ricinda Perry provided CRA members and meeting attendees with the detailed research she gathered on parking tram operations implemented in the cities of Stuart and Fort Pierce.
Perry’s presentation addressed upstart and operating costs, operational responsibilities, insurance requirements and costs, routes and route changes, hours of operation, designated stops or on-demand service, tram types and sizes, battery life and battery replacement and much more.
The city of Stuart’s tram program features a 2.2-mile route with 14 specific stops and also allows passengers to flag down trams between stops.
Stuart’s tram program utilizes city employees and includes 12 drivers operating six trams seven days a week. In fiscal year 2019, the city of Stuart budgeted $215,771 for its tram program. That consists of $150,965 for professional services including salaries and benefits, $29,806 for operating expenses and $35,000 for capital outlay.
Perry said she envisions using three trams, which would significantly reduce those costs.
Perry said the Fort Pierce tram program utilizes volunteer drivers. It began as an on-demand service but later transitioned into a program whose primary function is to shuttle users back and forth between their desired destinations and a parking garage.
Perry noted the CRA and the city of Bradenton Beach have not budgeted any money for a tram program in the current 2019-2020 fiscal year, and no funds were committed last week. Potential funding sources include existing CRA funds, advertising revenues and additional financial support from the Bradenton Beach business community.
Path to a pilot program
CRA member Ed Chiles said the goal has always been to include a dedicated tram pathway that runs parallel to Gulf Drive in the Cortez Beach parking lot south of Bridge Street. There have also been previous discussions about a possible tram hub at the north end of the Cortez Beach parking lot.
A dedicated tram path and hub located on county property would require county commission approval. County commissioners have some offered preliminary support for the tram idea, but they’ve also expressed concerns county parking spaces being used to serve the Bridge Street business district.
Perry and others have noted a pilot program could be started without the county’s support.
CRA chair Ralph Cole mentioned the need for signs at the entrance to the city that direct drivers to the designated parking areas. Chiles mentioned the need for a cell phone app too.
Perry said one of the first decisions that needs to be made is who’s going to operate and manage the desired tram program.
It was noted there are currently two gas-powered trams being privately operated in the Bridge Street area: one by the Anna Maria Oyster Bar and one by the Blue Marlin Grill. It was also noted that CRA member Jake Spooner will soon be required to operate a tram shuttle seven days a week, from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., when his new building on Bridge Street opens soon.
After 90 minutes of discussion that included insight from business owners, CRA member John Chappie made a motion calling for the CRA to partner with the Bradenton Beach Area Merchants to develop a parking tram pilot program and for Perry to work with the merchants to define the functioning model of that program.
Chappie’s motion also called for City Engineer Lynn Burnett to provide engineering drawings and for Perry and Burnett to work with Lt. John Cosby and Public Works Director Tom Woodard on safety concerns and signage. That motion was adopted by a 7-0 vote.
The CRA members adopted a second motion by a 6-1 vote that directed Perry, Burnett and Cosby to work with Chappie to prepare a pilot program presentation to present to county officials. CRA member David Bell opposed that motion because he felt it was premature and more information is still needed.
Monday meeting with merchants
On Monday, Feb. 24, Perry met with business owners and Bradenton Beach Area Merchants members Lynn Horne, Sherman Baldwin, Ryan Davis and Fred Bartizal.
“There is no option that they can identify for creating a pilot program that is sponsored by the merchants,” Perry said of that meeting. “Their concerns include cost, ADA compliance, construction activities by Manatee County and the ability to secure trams prior to the upcoming peak season.”
Perry said she will recommend the CRA issue request for proposals seeking a third party to operate a parking tram program on a trial basis if the members want to continue this pursuit.