Free electric shuttles return to downtown Tampa next week
Six years after they disappeared from the streets of downtown Tampa, free electric shuttles will return next week.
Two years in the making, the Downtowner, a service offered by the Tampa Downtown Partnership, the city of Tampa and local businesses, will start running at 6 p.m. Oct. 20.
The Downtowner’s vehicles will run seven days a week — 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Users will be able to summon the shuttles with an app.
The service will cover the central business district, the University of Tampa area, the Channel District and the Tampa River Arts District, which includes the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, the Tampa Museum of Art and the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, plus the non-gated northern end of Harbour Island.
In April, the City Council agreed to provide $560,000 from downtown and Channel District community development funds to establish the service. The Florida Department of Transportation pledged $150,000 for three years.
The idea, organizers say, is to give people an alternative to using their car just to get from one side of downtown to another and to help commuters cover the last mile of the trip from home to remote parking lots to work. The partnership has estimated the free shuttles would draw about 860 riders a day, or nearly 26,000 a month.
Tampa's $560,000 represents an annual contribution to the service. But the partnership has said it’s not looking to run the service for more than a couple of years. After that, organizers hope that the private sector sees an opportunity and works with regulators to re-enter the market on agreed-upon terms.
Four private companies provided a similar shuttle service until 2010, when the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission put them out of business after complaints from taxicab companies that they were unsafe and a source of unregulated competition.
Unlike those services, some of which took passengers as far as Ybor City and Hyde Park, the Downtowner will stick to Tampa’s urban core and is not meant to compete with taxicab companies’ lucrative business of taking visitors from downtown hotels to Tampa International Airport.