Monday, January 23, 2017

Unexplained $26,000 cost overrun on Nights of Lights shuttle

Posted January 23, 2017 05:54 am
St. Augustine shuttle cost expected to be $26K over previous estimate

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St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights shuttle is expected to cost about $26,000 more than estimated in December.

The latest cost estimate is $71,460 for the city’s free public park-and-ride system. Xavier Pellicer III, the city’s mobility coordinator, said he’s still receiving invoices but is confident in the estimate.

The parking lots and shuttle operated mostly on Saturdays and operated for 13 days from November through December.

Some officials said the city shouldn’t keep funding a shuttle system from its own coffers, and some said the run was a trial effort that will help the city refine the program.

From November through December, the city’s estimates on the program cost grew from about $30,000 to about $45,000.

Pellicer said the changes in anticipated cost reflect how the city adjusted the program. Reacting to demand, the program changed and expanded, though one lot on San Sebastian View off U.S. 1 North was closed for low usage.

“We were working on the fly,” Pellicer said.

As the city further develops the system, the costs could drop, he said.

The city’s mobility budget includes $85,000 for shuttling, according to Meredith Breidenstein, city budget director.

City Manager John Regan said he thinks it is appropriate to use taxpayer dollars for the system in the design phase, but he said the city will need to find other ways to pay for it.

The main point of the park-and-ride system was to reduce traffic congestion downtown during Nights of Lights by having people park on the outskirts of the city and take a shuttle to its core.

The shuttle system attracted 11,170 passengers, and an estimated 3,723 vehicles parked in the lots, according to the city.

The city plans to continue using the system, but it’s not clear how often or what the shuttle system might look like.

Pellicer said the city plans to use the shuttle on July Fourth, which the city also did in 2016.

Mayor Nancy Shaver said the discussion on the future of the system could include asking for Tourist Development Council dollars, as well as considering whether to offset the shuttle cost by offering paid parking on the field next to the city parking garage.

The city has, at times, opened Francis Field for parking as an alternative to the city parking garage.

Commissioner Leanna Freeman said while operating the shuttle doesn’t cost a lot of money, she doesn’t think the cost should fall entirely on taxpayers.

“I think it’s needed, and so we need to figure out a way to support it … to make it happen,” she said.

She said the shuttle benefits people who work and live in the city by clearing some congestion.

As for the effectiveness of the shuttle, Freeman said traffic seemed to be moving better. But during the week before the new year, “the arteries were clogged again.”

“[Traffic capacity] hits its maximum, and I don’t know if that’s ever going to change,” she said.

Vice Mayor Todd Neville said the cost of the shuttle is worthwhile for the city, and said it is part of the city’s top goal of improving mobility.

“Mobility, [since] it is our No. 1 strategic item, we’re going to have to invest in it,” he said.


We appreciate the fact that those few vehicles that used the shuttle lots did not contribute to the congestion, but I must ask, just how many of those shuttle riders purchased tour train rides to see the lights? Judging by the length of the lines, I would say most of them. In that case, shouldn't the tour train companies be picking up the tab for this shuttle service? Or, here's a thought, how about reducing the length of Nights of Lights from 2 1/2 months to one month? Think of all the money the city would save.

First Coaster
Of course the TDC should be paying, but they are in bed with the city council. Does any public entity ever audit their books?

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