The Gulfport GetGO is firmly on the way to becoming a reality.
Two six-passenger Electro Bubble Buddy shuttles have been ordered from Moto Electric Vehicles in Atlantic Beach, Florida, for a long-awaited program that will transport seniors and others within Gulfport’s city limits free of charge.
“It’s official,” Jim Williams, president of the Gulfport Multipurpose Senior Center Foundation, said Monday, October 10. “The order was made on October 4.”
Delivery is expected in December or January, and service will begin immediately.
The program aims to generate more customers for downtown businesses while encouraging drivers to leave their cars in outlying areas, thus easing traffic congestion and parking shortages.
Its predecessor, known as Swoop, carted folks around the city for a few months but was unable to make a go of it financially. That program was operated by a for-profit company out of Miami.
GetGO is being run by the non-profit Gulfport Multipurpose Senior Center Foundation to help increase services for local seniors and generate a stream of income for other senior center programs, Williams said.
Although it will be open to anyone, organizers say it will particularly benefit seniors by making available transportation during the nights and weekends when the G.E.M.S. (Gulfport Extended Mini Bus Service) many depend on is not available.
“I’m feeling very comfortable with the whole process,” Williams said, adding that the board made sure it had full support from the city and the business community before embarking on the project. “It was a well-thought-out procedure.”
Service is expected to be available seven days a week from the morning until restaurant-closing time, according to a foundation press release. In response to early controversy that city money earmarked for the Gulfport Senior Center was being allocated for the service, the press release stressed that there are “no taxpayer dollars involved” for GetGO.
Williams said local businesses and individuals contributed 60 percent of the $32,000 needed to buy the two vehicles at a cost of $18,000 each – down from the original estimate of about $25,000 apiece. The foundation lent the program the remaining $14,400, which organizers say will be repaid from revenues raised by selling advertising on the shuttles.
The vehicles will be driven by foundation volunteers working for tips. A paid employee working at the foundation’s office at the Gulfport Senior Center will take calls from people needing rides and dispatch the drivers.
The Gulfport Merchants Association, which has around 80 members, contributed $5,000 to the project, according to association President Scott Linde.
“I’m very excited about it,” he said.
Linde conceded that some people might be skeptical of the service after Swoop’s failure, he said that having a local non-profit in charge of the new program makes it a very different proposition.
“I just hope everybody is open-minded about it and gives it a try,” he said.
Despite high operating costs, including $10,000 for insurance, planners have said they anticipate a cash-flow surplus of $14,000 to $16,000 a year from ad sales.
Gulfport City Manager Jim O’Reilly said the initiative was a good thing.
“Any opportunity or means to facilitate our residents’ ability to move conveniently about the community is a very positive endeavor,” he said via email.
The foundation has reached a tentative arrangement with the city to store the shuttles at one of its locations, similar to the one it had with Swoop, Williams said.