A proposed shuttle service by Gotcha Ride would include seven six-seat electric shuttles similar to those pictured that can be hailed on a mobile app to ferry residents, visitors and workers around downtown without moving their cars. THE GOTCHA GROUP

Sarasota considers free downtown shuttle

SARASOTA – City leaders will consider today whether to award a contract to electric shuttle vendor Gotcha Ride to offer free rides around the downtown area.

The service would include seven six-seat electric shuttles that can be hailed on a mobile app to ferry residents, visitors and workers around downtown without moving their cars.

If approved, Gotcha Ride could be running by the end of April, City Manager Tom Barwin said in his weekly newsletter.

The free shuttles have been pitched as one of city leaders’ creative solutions, along with “road diets” and a water taxi service, that could reduce traffic congestion in and through downtown.

“The possibility of moving residents and visitors in an eco-friendly vehicle that is on-demand is exciting and, we believe, the wave of the future,” Barwin wrote.

Downtown Improvement District operations manager John Moran and Planner Steve Stancel introduced the idea last summer and have negotiated a proposed agreement to launch a two-year pilot program with the company.

The city would contribute $339,000 to the project, between monthly reimbursements for the operation and for the purchase of one handicap-accessible shuttle, according city documents.

That seed money is designed to jump-start the program, but if it’s successful, Gotcha Ride would fund the operation going forward by selling advertising on the carts, according to the plans.

Gotcha Ride largely serves college campuses and operates in several areas, including at Florida State University and the University of Florida, according to its website. Since it was founded at FSU in 2009, the company says it has provided more than 5 million rides without any accidents. The planned service area in Sarasota would extend from Mound Street to 14th Street and from School Avenue to the bayfront.

Rides would be available 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day and could be hailed through the mobile phone app, a phone number or by catching one on a fixed route around the area, according to the plans.

The rides are free, though tips are accepted.

The City Commission will consider the agreement at 2:30 p.m. today at City Hall, and the company will have a vehicle on display outside, Barwin said.

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