TAMPA — A minivan with paper signs reading "Shuttle Service" taped to the doors pulled close to the pay machine at a downtown parking garage and two people jumped in for a ride.
Taking advantage of a new government service contract, they journeyed from 319 Pierce St. to … 319 Pierce St.
Hillsborough County is paying the contractor $26,000 to provide what essentially is an elevator on wheels — a shuttle service that goes up and down the nine-story parking garage giving rides to people who don’t want to wait for the building’s one working elevator.
Datazoomers will provide the service 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday-Friday for 18 weeks while the two elevators are refurbished, one at a time.
The Pierce Street garage, right across the street from Hillsborough County Center on Kennedy Boulevard, has 550 spaces for county employees and the public. People park here while they go inside to pay taxes, apply for permits and licenses, and register to vote.
But not many of them seemed aware of the shuttle during a recent visit to the garage. When told about it, some questioned whether it’s a wise use of tax dollars.
"If there is one elevator working, they should use that and not be paying for a shuttle," said Juan Joachin, a finance worker who visited the County Center to pick up a new license plate.
"I think it’s ridiculous to spend that money," said retiree William Flynn, who parked at the Pierce Street garage while he filed a car registration document. "There’s another elevator."
During a 30-minute period around lunchtime Thursday, the longest wait for the elevator at the ground floor was three minutes. The average was one minute, 17 seconds.
County officials insist the shuttle makes sense and is not just a perk for county employees.
Of the 550 parking spaces, 505 are sold to county employees at a cost of $38 per month. These spaces are not reserved. Between 225 and 250 members of the public park at the garage daily. The project was awarded to the lowest bidder and the service provides a backup if the second elevator breaks down, said Josh Bellotti, director of real estate and facilities services.
"When one is out of service, we’re now relying on the second elevator serving the full load," he said. "Recognizing, that it’s the middle of summer in Florida and we have folks, staff and public, who might not be physically able to utilize the stairs. This is the contingency measure for that."
The shuttle driver, who identified himself only as Dheeraj, said the most people he has had in his shuttle at one time is three. The vehicle can seat six passengers.
He admitted it can be sometimes dull driving up and down the concrete structure while obeying the almost pedestrian 8 mph speed limit. That pace frustrates passengers during his busiest spell in the morning, he said.
"During the rush hour they feel really angry," he said. "They’re late for work and the want to go really fast."
Contact Christopher O’Donnell at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446.