That’s the latest time frame outlined for the start of Gulfport’s Get-Go service, which aims to transport folks anywhere within city limits so they can leave their cars home or in outlying parking areas and thus ease downtown traffic congestion and parking shortages, said former Gulfport Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bob Newcomb.
The program will replace one previously run by Miami-based Swoop, which failed to make money and left town after a few months, said Newcomb who, along with Gulfport resident Biff Lagan, is spearheading the new effort vowing to not repeat the same mistakes.
“This is so Gulfport, the way we’re doing it,” Newcomb said. He said the Swoop people were “young kids” who “didn’t understand our market versus theirs.”
Under the new model, two, six-people vehicles will be purchased with $25,000 raised from city businesses and a loan of up to $25,000 from the non-profit Gulfport Multipurpose Senior Center Foundation. The Foundation already runs GEMS, the Gulfport Extended Mini-Bus Service, which provides transportation to Gulfport residents 55 years and older and residents with disabilities.
The vehicles will be driven by foundation volunteers working for tips, and operating income will come from ads sold to local businesses, Newcomb said in an interview at his home July 1. Advertisers will pay $130 to $170 per month for ads about 1.5 sq-ft, depending on location.
“If we did 65 percent of capacity in terms of our ad sales, we would make money,” he said. “My feeling is we will show an annual cash-flow surplus of somewhere between $14,000 and $16,000 a year.”
Not everyone is so optimistic. Richard Walters, commodore of the Boca Ciega Yacht Club, said that if the new system works, it would be beneficial.
“It would allow visitors to get downtown because people that come by boat don’t have a vehicle,” he said.
However, he noted, the club contributed funds to the Swoop effort and had been disappointed when it failed. He didn’t know whether the club would contribute again.
Newcomb said the program will work because Gulfport is small – 3.7 square miles and around 12,000 people – and because of the way the funding is being structured. Overhead costs are high, with insurance the biggest at about $10,000 per year, he said.
“Nobody can run a profit-making business,” he said. “That’s why a non-profit is the only one that finds it attractive.”
Newcomb said earnings from the program will go to reimburse the Multipurpose Senior Center Foundation and when that’s paid off, to provide a steady source of income for the Foundation’s activities.
Beverly Newcomb, a member of the Foundation’s board of directors and Bob’s wife, said the Get-Go would help everyone.
“We hope it will benefit the seniors in town and the community at large, and be a fundraiser for the foundation,” she said.
If all goes according to plan, the order for the custom-made vehicles will go in late next month and the vehicles will be on the road in November.
The company that makes the shuttles is Moto Electric Vehicles of Atlantic Beach in Florida. The shuttle, dubbed the Electro Bubble Buddy LSV, is a high-quality, fully enclosed street-worthy vehicle with seat belts and windows, Newcomb said.
The logo was designed by Ray Domingo, an artist specializing in massive paintings of marine life who recently moved to Gulfport.