By Mary Hladky
City Council members are leaning toward an on-demand ride service as an alternative transportation option that would lessen downtown traffic congestion by getting people out of their cars.
At a meeting May 8, they backed away from creating fixed-route trolleys, instead preferring something like the Downtowner, which ceased operating in Boca Raton at the end of December. Under that system, people wanting a free ride would summon an electric vehicle via a mobile app.
Council members, sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency board, made no final decisions on what type of service will be offered. But they are moving forward with a request for proposals from private companies.
City officials also plan to contact downtown business owners soon about what types of service they think would work best, hoping the businesses will financially support a transit program.
Mayor Susan Haynie and several other council members said they want a service up and running as soon as possible, and some expressed frustration that the city’s request-for-proposals process is so lengthy. It likely will be a year before an alternative transportation option is operating.
“I think this is very important, essential,” council member Robert Weinroth said. “But I am concerned if we don’t get the input from the downtown residents and businesses, we may be building something we think is great but they may not think is meeting their needs.”
When they first started discussing transportation options in December, council members indicated their preferred option was a trolley system that would circulate through downtown and make pickups every 10 minutes.
But cost estimates prepared by city staff have dissuaded them, at least for now.
Downtown Manager Ruby Childers estimated in February that a trolley system would cost $3.2 million for the trolleys, signage and trolley stops. Annual operations would cost as much as $1.8 million.
Council members didn’t want to spend that much and grew increasingly concerned that fixed-route trolleys would not attract enough riders.
“I feel the trolley itself … is not the answer for us,” Haynie said at the May 8 meeting.
Council member Andrea O’Rourke said: “I think we should not think about trolleys now. It is not the answer to have big, empty trolleys. Electric cars seem to be the way we are going.”
The envisioned route would have included City Hall, the downtown library, Mizner Park, Royal Palm Place, Camino Real and back to City Hall.
O’Rourke asked that the route be expanded to the beach, so residents there could easily get downtown and tourists could get to the beach.
But Haynie and Weinroth said it would be better to start with a limited downtown route and expand to the beach at a later date.
While plans are moving ahead slowly, one alternative for people wanting to ditch their cars has started operating.
Delray Beach Bike Club received Boca Raton approval to launch a pedicab service the first week of May, starting with six vehicles that can reach speeds of 20 miles per hour. More can be added if demand is strong, said President Patrick Halliday.
Riders can summon a pedicab with a mobile app. The rides are free, underwritten by sponsor ads, but drivers accept tips. As of the beginning of the month, developer Investments Limited was advertising on the pedicabs, and Halliday was working to get more sponsors.
He also was in the process of talking to officials of the Hyatt Place hotel at 100 E. Palmetto Park Road about making his pedicabs available near the hotel’s entrance.
Halliday said he would start operating in Boynton Beach beginning this fall. He ran into a roadblock in Delray Beach in mid-April, when Police Chief Jeff Goldman questioned the safety of the pedicabs proposed to operate on East Atlantic Avenue.
That concern is unfounded, Halliday said, and he is pursuing “other options” to offer service in Delray Beach.
Two- or three-passenger pedicabs are a user-friendly mode of transport, he said. Drivers can suggest things to do, sights to see and restaurants to try.
“I call them ambassadors for the city,” he said.
By Mary Hladky