GREG STANLEY GREG.STANLEY@NAPLESNEWS.COM; 239-263-4738
Collier County will try to salvage its beach shuttle after the service was virtually ignored by residents and visitors during its first season.
The trolley ran seven days a week from February to May in a 16-mile loop from North Collier Regional Park near Interstate 75 to Vanderbilt Beach and the entrance of Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park in North Naples.
A total of just 321 riders, or about 20 a week, used the trolley. Some weeks, the trolley served as few as three riders.
With an operating cost of $31,500, it would have been cheaper for the county to buy each of the 321 riders a cab ride, said Victor Rios, a member of the county’s Tourist Development Council.
“We need to completely go back to the drawing board for this,” Rios said.
The purpose of the shuttle is to take pressure off the parking lots at two of the county’s busiest beaches, while also reducing traffic on roads to and from the coast.
By retooling the route, hours and cost, the shuttle still could accomplish those goals, said Michelle Arnold, director of alternate transportation and modes.
“A shorter route would make sense,” Arnold said. “We need to provide the service earlier in the day and at sunset.”
The trolley ran every hour from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. A state grant covered half of the $31,500 operating cost. The county paid the rest with bed tax dollars. The grant captured by the county is good for three years, so the county has two years left of state funding for the program.
By shutting down at 3 p.m., the service missed people who go to the beach for sunset, Arnold said. And by starting so far away from the beach, it never made sense for visitors and residents who live west of the interstate to backtrack to the park to catch a ride to the beach.
The shuttle also cost $3 a person round-trip. For a family of five, it could have been cheaper to find parking, Arnold said.
Arnold has proposed the shuttle be free next season. It would run on a shorter loop, starting in a parkon Immokalee Road and running south on Gulf Shore Boulevard to Vanderbilt Beach Road and back up U.S. 41.
The shorter loop would mean trips would run every 40 minutes, rather than every hour. The trolley also would run into Delnor-Wiggins Park, rather than drop riders off at the park entrance.
The hours would be split, operating in the morning and at sunset to make the trolley available during the busiest times of day. The trolley would run only four days a week, from Fridays to Mondays.
The county is planning to restart the service earlier in the season, the day after Thanksgiving.
Collier officials also plan to work with nearby hotels to make sure visitors know about the ride to the beach, said county spokesman Mike Sheffield.
“We had hoped more beach-goers would have taken advantage of the trolley service during this inaugural season, but we’ve learned a lot and are planning lots of changes for next season,” Sheffield said