TAMPA — Those free Downtowner shuttle rides in Tampa could be about to get an upgrade.
Buoyed by hitting the 100,000-rider benchmark in just seven months of operation, the Tampa Downtown Partnership is planning to expand the popular app-based service with the addition of four electric Chevrolet Bolts.
The all-electric car would improve upon shuttle rides with air conditioning and protection from the rain. The service's fleet of 12 golf cart-like vehicles called GEMs have doors but the windows are usually rolled down since there is no air conditioning.
Bolts can also run longer on a single charge, about 230 miles, compared to the six-seater GEM, which averages about 60 miles before its needs more juice.
"The difference would be the Chevy Bolts would be able to go all day long without being charged," said Karen Kress, the partnership's director of transportation and planning.
The Bolts could be in service later this summer, Kress said. Whether a Bolt or GEM turns up when a customer hails a ride on the Downtowner mobile app would come down to chance, she said.
The expansion is needed to meet demand, which in peak periods sees wait times run 30 minutes or longer.
Including insurance, maintenance and driver, each Bolt will cost about $110,000 per year to put on the road. The partnership is seeking sponsorship including advertisers who want their logos on the cars.
The service now costs about $1 million per year.
Launched in October, it covers an area from the north end of Harbour Island to Interstate 275, and from the University of Tampa area to the Channel District. The limitation of the GEM's batteries means that only six vehicles are on the road at one time while the others are recharging.
The Tampa City Council acting as the Community Redevelopment Area is expected to approve spending about $600,000 to run the shuttle for a second year. The money would come from downtown and Channel District community development funds. The Florida Department of Transportation has pledged to pay $150,000 for three years.
Most downtown hotels and office buildings have also chipped in about $5,000 each, Kress said. The partnership will ask for a bigger contributions this year.
The University of Tampa also committed recently to provide financial support. About 22 percent of Downtowner rides are either to or from the university campus.
Tampa City Council member Guido Maniscalco said it makes sense for the city to invest in a popular service.
"It's free to consumers and with everything going on in downtown, it helps to connect us," he said. "I'm glad they're going to be expanding it to Bolts."
Contact Christopher O'Donnell at email@example.com or (813) 226-3446.