Downtown Pensacola Trolley Service in Limbo

Jun 19, 2017

Shuttle similar to this were to have been on the streets of downtown Pensacola this summer.
Credit Moto Electric Vehicles

The plug has been pulled on a plan to use electric trolleys in downtown Pensacola this summer. But that’s not necessarily the end of the line.

A half-dozen shuttles borrowed from Gulf Islands National Seashore were to have served the 39-block downtown area.

“Since the ferry service has been delayed a year, until spring 2018, we didn’t want those trams to just sit there unutilized. So we did reach out to the City of Pensacola, to see if they might have a need or an interest,” said GINS Director Dan Brown.

Memorial Day weekend was the target launch date for the project, to be funded by businessman Quint Studer and his wife Rishy. The inspiration came from last fall’s use of trolleys on loan from Pensacola Beach, which was considered a success in moving about four thousand passengers through the area.

“It was one of those things that fell in our lap and we tried to turn it into a home run, and it didn’t turn into a home run,” said D.C. Reeves, Director of Operations and Communications for the Studer Family of Companies.

Besides the size of the trolleys there were issues with liability and getting them street-legal.

“It’s one of those mobility answers, and it’s a true amenity for the city and it’s still a great idea,” said Curt Morse, executive director of the Downtown Improvement Board.

But Morse adds that in this case, size does matter.

“They’re not as small as a street-legal golf cart, and because they’re larger it presents another layer of restrictions and requirements,” Morse said.”

Despite the setback, both Reeves and Morse say the idea of a shuttle service downtown is not completely off the table.

“As a matter of fact, it’s one of the two or three top things on my desk right now,” Reeves said. “Looking into different vehicles that may be operated just here privately. It might be a private-private sponsorship.”

While many cities have downtown shuttle service, the Pensacola model stands alone because of its uniqueness -- a smaller footprint and wanting to use much smaller, electric vehicles.

“One of the key challenges, is these types of low-speed vehicles,” said Morse. “And they’re really designed to be incorporated into the mobility of a park or some other location that’s not populated with vehicles, particularly public vehicles.”

Morse is hopeful that this week’s meeting will generate some ideas on how to come up with the funding to get a trolley system on the streets of downtown Pensacola. Then, it’s a visit the Pensacola City Hall.

But for now, Morse adds, there’s “just so much that’s unknown.”