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Disney-style transportation could make its way to Fort Myers Beach

November 7, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

LeeTran is considering a pilot program to transport people in the commercial district of Fort Myers Beach.

Replacing two of the five beach trolleys, a seasonal hop-on, hop-off tram could be cruising Estero Boulevard from Bowditch Point to Matanzas Pass Preserve, covering the ground of Fort Myers Beach's most tourist-trafficked areas.

"We envision this to go to retail centers, to get people to the local businesses," said Katie Meckley, marketing director for LeeTran, at the Monday Town Council meeting.

Article Photos

LeeTran is considering putting two of these hop-on trams in Fort Myers Beach’s public transportation program circulation. Photo courtesy LeeTran.

The three-sectioned tram, similar to a transportation option offered in Disney parks, would be free to ride. It would include more than 22 stops at which anyone could hop on or off, with the turn around at Bay Oaks Recreation Campus. It would operate on the same hours as the trolley, beginning around 6 a.m. and ending at 10 or 11 p.m., Meckley said. It would have a similar

It would also connect with the Park and Ride on San Carlos Boulevard and the Lovers Key trolley, as well as the other three beach trolleys; however, riders would have to transfer from the tram to the trolley.

The electric vehicle only travels about 10 m.p.h., and would have a driver in the front and a conductor in the back to direct passengers on and off.

"It's easy to hop on, and it has a fun personality," Meckley said.

The current trolley system on the beach costs $814,903 to operate and costs 75 cents to ride. According to the LeeTran presentation, switching the beach program to two trams and three trolleys would cost an additional sum, pushing the operating costs of beach transportation just over $1 million. LeeTran would also lose approximately $51,000 in fare revenue from switching to the tram in the downtown core. LeeTran is going to the county commission for final approval of the pilot program, as well as a decision to either buy or lease the trams. However, the additional $200,000 in operating costs has already been budgeted, said District 3 Commissioner Larry Kiker, who participated in the presentation.

"The idea is to put people on Fort Myers Beach but not their cars," he said. "These folks were given, 'get creative. Do something different.'"

LeeTran had a retreat earlier this year to discuss revamping the entire transit system; this pilot program is one of the components that came out of that retreat.

Town Council members had questions - with the tram only moving at 10 mph and stopping frequently, some asked if the system would be practical.

Council Member Bruce Butcher said he was glad to see the proposal, but said LeeTran needed to educate the public and drivers about the legality of passing the tram when it is stopped; sometimes people are unsure if they can pass the trolleys or buses when they have pulled over at a stop, he said .

"People don't know if they're allowed to pass or now, and it creates a dangerous situation," he said.

Vice Mayor Tracey Gore and Council Member Anita Cereceda were concerned about the removal of the two trolleys from the system and the alteration of some of the transfer points. As presented, people taking public transportation to the beach would have to transfer from trolley to tram and vice versa to get to their location, unlike the current set-up. So, if an employee was trying to get to Bay Oaks from the Summerlin Square park-and-ride, they'd have to get on the trolley and then transfer to the tram.

"That's a problem," Gore said. "For people going to work, that might offset people wanting to ride."

Cereceda made similar comments and added that "in a perfect world" the tram would have its own lane so it could bypass traffic; otherwise, it may just be part of the beach season crawl down Estero Boulevard. But, she was optimistic: "If Key West can do it, we can do it."

Council Member Joanne Shamp wanted to have a feature added either to the LeeTran smartphone app, where people can see when their ride is approaching, or to the tram in some way that would tell its riders about the town, points of interest or other pertinent info.

"I love the feel of it, and I love that it's unique," Shamp said.

The council greeted LeeTran's proposal with interest, but a similar proposal from a private business received little traction earlier this summer.

Nickel Ride owner Judah Longgrear approached the town in August to operate his free ride service in the beach's downtown core. His electric vehicles can be hailed down via app or on the street; riders can hop on and off within a three-mile radius. However, his ride doesn't carry as many passengers per trip as the LeeTran tram.

The low-speed vehicles carry a license and insurance like a car, and can be driven on any road which has a posted speed limit of 35 mph or lower.

Longgrear's drivers have experience in both customer service and the areas they drive in, and can even act as tour guides to tell riders about the location.

Tips are encouraged, but the businesses makes its revenue from paid advertising on the outside of the vehicle as well as marketing content placed within the ride.

"I spoke at public comment about my business, the council did not seem very enthusiastic," he said. "It is what it is, I guess."

Longgrear said he emailed town council members and reached out to former Community Development Director Kara Stewart. The town didn't have an ordinance about low-speed vehicles, and Longgrear said he was hoping to work with the town to craft that ordinance so he could run the Nickel Ride on the beach to their specifications and how council thought would work best for the island - and unlike LeeTran, funded through the county, his business is not funded by taxpayers.

"We could just go ahead and operate, but I didn't think that was the right way to go," he said.

He needs a business permit, and thinks it would be difficult to get without an ordinance regulating these low speed vehicles.

He's successfully started the concept in downtown Fort Myers, and will begin in Cape Coral Dec. 1. He's not giving up on the beach, since LeeTran's tram would only run seasonally.

"I think we could still work out (on the beach)," Longgrear said. "Obviously they see the need for alternative transportation."



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