New Port Richey leaders hear pitch for free downtown trolley

New Port Richey City Hall  ALICE HERDEN | Special to the Times
New Port Richey City Hall ALICE HERDEN | Special to the Times
Published June 19, 2019

NEW PORT RICHEY — During this year's bustling Chasco Fiesta, event organizers offered free transportation to move patrons to entertainment hot spots throughout downtown New Port Richey.

It proved to be a well-used service that city leaders say could work on a regular basis to help transport people around New Port Richey's downtown, which is bustling with restaurants, bars, stores, parks, the planned re-opening of the Hacienda Hotel and an emerging apartment market.

Discussion on downtown transportation emerged Tuesday as the New Port Richey City Council met in its role as the city's Community Redevelopment Agency. Council members heard a proposal from a company that provided free transportation during Chasco, with volunteer drivers working for tips.

EZ EventRide, out of Jacksonville, asked the city be its first sponsor for a 90-day pilot program in New Port Richey, offering two 15-person trolleys to provide free rides around downtown. The city's cost would be $13,500.

The goal is eventually to offer transportation all week for eight hours a day on the most used routes. Meanwhile, EZ would seek local and national advertisers, according to the proposal. In exchange for the city's initial sponsorship, EZ would splash city-related advertising on the vehicles, such as information on events.

City officials expressed interest in the proposal, but were concerned about the idea of a city sponsorship. City Council member Chopper Davis said the project is a better fit for the newly re-formed New Port Richey Main Street organization, which the city recently agreed to give $15,000 over the next year.

Deputy Mayor Jeff Starkey supported providing transit downtown, but said the company's initial schedule is too ambitious. It should not be up to the city to fund the startup, he said, suggesting the company find businesses that will benefit from advertising on the vehicles to get it going.

"I see a need for something like this. I just don't think it's the city's role to provide sponsorship," he said.

Mayor Rob Marlowe agreed that everyday service may be too much and suggested starting with targeted peak hours for foot traffic downtown.

"I think there is an argument for weekends," Marlowe said.