Old Town Tram contract extended

Old Town Tram contract extended
The Old Town Trams will continue to operate for at least another six months. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

BRADENTON BEACH – By a 3-2 vote, the Old Town Tram parking shuttle contract has been extended for six months. 

Initiated by the Bradenton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) as a one-year pilot program in November 2020, the free tram service uses golf cart-like electric vehicles provided and operated by Joshua LaRose’s Sarasota-based Easy Parking Group. 

In 2021, the pilot program was extended for a second year and that one-year contract extension expired on Nov. 1. On Nov. 2, the CRA members and LaRose agreed to a six-month extension that expires on April 30. The CRA or LaRose can terminate the service at any time with 30 days’ notice. CRA members John Chappie, Ralph Cole and Ed Chiles supported the contract extension. Members David Bell and Jan Vosburgh opposed it. 

Before agreeing to the extension, the CRA members discussed privatizing the tram service with LaRose and/or other operators, entering into another one-year contract with LaRose or discontinuing the tram service. The board discussed allowing the tram service to continue on a month-to-month basis but City Attorney Ricinda Perry said the contract doesn’t allow that.

The trams run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily, with the exception of Sundays, when service stops at 9 p.m. LaRose said privatization would likely result in reduced operating hours and days of operation. 

Tram goals

The tram service is funded by the CRA and the monthly costs are partially offset by advertising revenues generated by the trams’ advertising panels. The long-term goal is for advertising revenues to cover 100% of the monthly costs. During the past year, advertising revenues have accounted for slightly more than 50% of the monthly costs.

The primary operational goal for the tram service is to encourage visitors to park in the county-owned Cortez Beach and Coquina Beach parking lots south of Bridge Street and take the trams to and from their desired locations within the CRA district that extends from Fifth Street South to the Cortez Bridge.

Of the two county-owned beach parking areas, Cortez Beach is closer to Bridge Street. LaRose has repeatedly stated that his tram drivers frequently pick up passengers at Cortez Beach but rarely transport passengers to and from Coquina Beach further to the south.

Old Town Tram contract extended
Visitors are encouraged to park at Cortez Beach and ride the trams to their desired destinations within the CRA district. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

LaRose said most rides are generated by personal interactions between tram drivers and those searching for a parking space, people hailing a ride in person or people hailing a ride by phone. 

LaRose has repeatedly noted this his drivers frequently turn down requests for rides north of the Cortez Bridge, which remains outside the CRA’s intended tram route.

The long-term vision for the tram service includes installing a dedicated tram path running along the west side of Gulf Drive South from Fifth Street South to the North Coquina boat ramp. The dedicated path would allow tram drivers and passengers to avoid sitting in Gulf Drive traffic. 

The tram path – and a dedicated employee parking lot near the Coquina North boat ramp – received preliminary Manatee County Commission support in 2021, but the installation of a tram path remains on hold pending a county pipe replacement project that is expected to significantly disrupt the Cortez Beach parking areas while that work takes place.

Perry said the lack of a dedicated tram path puts the tram service in “a tenuous position for success.”

Angela Rodocker, owner of the BridgeWalk and Silver Surf resorts, has long supported the tram service, while also remaining critical of its operations. She does not support the trams traveling north of the Cortez Bridge and has constantly expressed the need for tram drivers to adhere to a designated route within the CRA district.

Rodocker acknowledged the trams are moving a lot of people around, but she doesn’t think the service is meeting its original objectives. Bradenton Beach Marina owner Mike Bazzy encouraged the board to continue the tram service despite its shortcomings.

“Don’t give up, stay with it,” he said.

To hail a tram, call 941-404-6240. To learn more, visit the tram website.