Parking committee considers public-private partnership for free taxi service on Marco

Devan Patel
Marco Eagle
The Marco Island Ad-Hoc Parking Committee is looking at free taxi services like The Nickel Ride as a way to help alleviate some of the city's parking problems.

Parking has long been and continues to be one of Marco Island’s greatest challenges but the city’s ad-hoc parking committee is entertaining an innovative solution to help alleviate the problem.

As a low-cost alternative to the city, the parking committee is exploring the possibility of bringing in a free taxi service through a public-private partnership after hearing a presentation from The Nickel Ride at its Wednesday meeting.

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The Nickel Ride is an eco-friendly, free taxi service that is funded primarily through business sponsorships and a small government subsidy. Like Uber or Lyft, the service uses a smartphone application as part of a hailing system although it can also be as simple as dialing its phone number or raising a hand to catch a ride.

Started a little more than a year ago, the micro transit operator is now in Fort Myers, Punta Gorda, St. Petersburg and Cape Coral.

Zeke Jackson, government relations director for The Nickel Ride, said in analyzing Marco Island’s traffic patterns through data from the Florida Department of Transportation, The Nickel Ride could deploy nine vehicles in the city.

While the taxi service has to operate in areas where the speed limit is 35 miles per hour or less, Jackson said that there doesn’t appear to be very many areas where it would be kept out of.

Public Works Director Tim Pinter said the only stretch that exceeds the speed limit is part of San Marco Road heading out to the Goodland Bridge.

If Marco Island was to utilize nine electric vehicles, Jackson said it would ask the city to pay $135,000 or $15,000 per vehicle. The majority of the operating costs, $57,600 per vehicle, would be paid for through business sponsorship.

The vehicles can accommodate up to six passengers, including the driver, although larger vehicles are available if that was something the city was interested in.

Judah Longgrear, founder and CEO, said his company has plenty of experience with seasonality so it can adapt to Marco Island’s needs.

“We’re looking to grow with the city so we want this to be very proactive,” Longgrear said. “We’re not asking for a check and for us not to be here accountable and presenting data back to you. If we find out based upon the data we have that those are not the right numbers and we need to add to it, I can easily pull from the fleet I have in the other cities I have operations as well as the vehicles I currently have parked in North Fort Myers that can be easily deployed.”

Longgrear said that any need for maintenance for vehicles would take place during non-business hours so that service is not interrupted.

Asked how long it would take to get up and running once if an agreement is reached with the City Council, Longgear said 60-90 days.

With the approval of next year’s budget rapidly approaching, however, it doesn’t appear likely that this proposal can get off and running.

Chairperson Robert Cholka said if the Council decided it wanted to pursue an idea like this, it would most likely not happen until 2020 at the earliest.

The cost of such a proposal also may prevent the city from outright doing business with The Nickel Ride right off the bat.

Purchasing rules may require the city to have to release a request for proposals for a transportation service funded through a public-private partnership.

Pinter, who was taking notes during the presentation, also raised a number of questions that need to be answered including where charging stations would be located, where vehicles can be stored in compliance with city code and where the dropoff points would be for the vehicles.

“The only vehicle that is allowed to stop on the roadway to load and unload is a public transportation vehicle or a police officer or a fire truck,” Pinter said. “Private vehicles and things like this can’t just stop in the road to pick up passengers.”