Downtown Orlando may get a new on-demand, eco-friendly shuttle service

Rides through the on-demand shuttle service would cost $1 to start.

click to enlarge Another microtransit option could be coming to downtown Orlando. - Circuit Transit Inc.
Circuit Transit Inc.
Another microtransit option could be coming to downtown Orlando.

City officials are considering launching a new, on-demand shuttle service in downtown Orlando in the hopes of expanding transit options and visitation in the downtown core.

The program, operated by the micro-transit company Circuit Transit, would begin with five electric shuttles that would run seven days a week, for 10 hours per day, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. to start.

The initial fare for the eco-friendly service is “anticipated” to be $1 a ride for passengers, according to city records. The program would cost the city $595,712 annually, if approved.

The idea was discussed during a Downtown Orlando Community Redevelopment Area Advisory Board (CRAAB) meeting last week, where the board recommended program approval. A city spokesperson confirmed the concept will now go before the Orlando City Commission for a vote on June 10.

According to city records, the goal of the program is to increase transit options for residents and guests, help address lack of parking, increase visitors to downtown Orlando and help support local businesses that have struggled to stay afloat or otherwise feel that downtown has become a less-than-ideal place to be.

Just last week, Hamburger Mary’s announced their iconic LGBTQ-owned restaurant would be leaving downtown and relocating elsewhere. Downtown has also seen new restrictions on its sometimes-rowdy nightlife scene — a move by city leaders that has been met with both praise and criticism. Several bar and nightclub owners point directly to new restrictions on downtown parking garages put in place by the city as negatively impacting their bottom line.

The company that the city would be partnering with — Circuit Transit — has similar shuttle programs in West Palm Beach (where most rides are free), Fort Lauderdale and more than 40 other locations across the country, from California to Texas and Massachusetts.

According to Palm Beach Daily News, their on-demand shuttle service with Circuit Transit began as a pilot program back in 2021, transporting riders between downtown West Palm Beach and the town of Palm Beach. The program was extended in 2022 due to the popularity of the program, with ride prices ranging from free to $8, depending on where you’re headed and the number of passengers.

According to the West Palm Beach Downtown Development Authority, the program’s use within the first year represented “over 85,000 rides provided in the past 12 months, a reduction of more than 60 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, and the creation of 37 jobs for local residents as managers, supervisors and driver/ambassadors.”

On-demand shuttle programs that run in other Florida cities allow up to five passengers per ride, with rides accessible through the company’s mobile app. So, basically, if replicated in Orlando, it’s a city-subsidized Uber ride that is eco-friendly and would exclusively serve the downtown Orlando core.

Unlike the crash-prone, driverless shuttle program the city launched last year, these vehicles would be driven by fully licensed human drivers. According to the company’s contract with Orlando’s Downtown CRA, drivers would be employed by Circuit Transit and paid no less than a “living wage” of $15 an hour minimum. Tips for drivers would be appreciated and accepted, but not required.

The city is eyeing an initial one-year term for the program, with the option of renewing the program for two one-year terms. If approved by the CRA, the program would launch within 30 days of the effective date of their agreement with Circuit. A city spokesperson confirmed they anticipate the program would launch sometime this fall, if approved.

This post has been updated to clarify that the shuttle charge in West Palm Beach depends both on where you are headed and the number of passengers.

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McKenna Schueler

News reporter for Orlando Weekly, with a focus on state and local government, workers' rights, and housing issues. Previously worked for WMNF Radio in Tampa. You can find her bylines in Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, In These Times, Strikewave, and Facing South among other publications.
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