By Mary Hladky
After seven years of discussion, the City Council has dropped plans to create a Business Improvement District to pay for a shuttle system that would transport people around the downtown.
The B.I.D. would have been financed by downtown businesses, offices, hotels and apartment buildings that would be assessed a fee based on the taxable value of their properties and their proximity to shuttle stops.
But when surveyed in October, those who would pay the fee did not support it. They generally liked the idea, but not if they had to bear the cost.
“They think it is a good idea, but they are not willing to pay for it,” consultant Marie York of York Solutions in Jupiter said at the Nov. 25 Community Redevelopment Agency meeting. “Some saw the advantage of having a shuttle, but they thought as a whole the city should pay for it.”
The fee wasn’t the only concern. Objectors thought shuttles would not attract riders.
They questioned the need for shuttles. As more people use ride-hailing services, they can get to their downtown destinations without using a shuttle.
They also didn’t think shuttles would increase their revenues or lease values.
If shuttles were implemented, they wanted upscale vehicles, not typical trolleys.
There was so little interest in the idea that very few people attended meetings held to solicit input.
Council member Andrea O’Rourke called the attendance “abysmal.”
Since the B.I.D. concept attracted no support, Peg Anderson, who chaired the B.I.D. committee, announced the death of the idea at the CRA meeting.
“This is kind of a B.I.D. farewell,” she said.
The city likely will have to come up with Plan B.
Virgin Trains, which wants a Boca Raton station, has asked the city to provide a shuttle system to ferry train riders from the station to various locations in the city.
Although that is not part of current negotiations between the city and Virgin Trains, the subject seems certain to come up again.
City staff members already have explored the cost of contracting with a company to provide free rides in electric vehicles. They gave top ranking to Freebee, which is now operating in Delray Beach, Coral Gables, Fort Lauderdale and other cities.
But the service doesn’t come cheap. Service just in the downtown would be $333,590 a year. If the service area were expanded to include more neighborhoods and the beach, the cost would rise to $616,805 a year.
Council members balked at those numbers in September, and started talking about subsidizing the use of ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft.
Deputy City Manager Mike Woika told council members that transportation agencies and cities are setting up subsidized partnerships with ride-hailing companies.
Jupiter did this to reduce the number of impaired drivers on the road. The city offers a $15 dollar Uber voucher for use during specific times and dates during the holidays.
Wilton Manors in Broward County offers a $5 discount on Uber and Lyft rides ending in the city on Friday and Saturday nights and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesdays.
Council members agreed that the city should try this as a pilot project.
“I think this is a way to get going for a lot less than other options,” said Deputy Mayor Jeremy Rodgers.
They suggested various times to implement this, such as during New Year’s Eve, or at city events such as the holiday parade and tree-lighting.
Mayor Scott Singer wanted all ride-hailing companies to be able to participate.
Woika will report back on the cost.