LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Transit planners in Polk County are hoping a downtown shuttle service has more success in Lakeland than it did in Tampa.
Citrus Connection, Polk County’s public transit system, has received the go-ahead to launch “The Squeeze.”
It’s a way for locals and visitors to get from places including parking garages, hotels and Florida Southern College, to the downtown area.
“They can park and hop on The Squeeze and get where they want to go. Make it very easy to navigate downtown and help downtown with this post-COVID recovery,” said Tom Phillips, executive director of Citrus Connection.
“The Squeeze” looks more like a large golf cart than a bus or a shuttle.
It’s fit for seven passengers and a part-time driver.
It’s similar to the now-extinct “Downtowner” in Tampa, which was in use from 2016 through April 2021.
The service halted due to lack of funding.
“We really feel that we have it refined. So I think that the mistakes that were made in Tampa, we’ve learned from here in the Lakeland area,” said Phillips.
One way Citrus Connection changed the implementation of the shuttle system was through funding.
It is using COVID-related stimulus funds from 2020 to buy three carts and pay for some of the operational costs.
Advertisers can purchase space on the carts and passengers have to pay.
A monthly unlimited pass will cost $9. A weekly pass costs $3 and a daily pass costs $2.
Tickets can be purchased on a mobile app.
The two in-service carts will be tracked through GPS on the free myStop mobile app.
“You’re going to be able to see where both of the vehicles are and how many seats are available. So you can tell if you’re a larger party, if you’re going to have to wait for 1 or for 2 carts,” said Phillips.
Phillips also says planners improved on the design routes.
A longer dinnertime “Squeeze” will run from 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. and will include the Florida Southern College campus, hotels near the RP Funding Center and a loop around Lake Mirror and Lake Morton.
The lunch loop is shorter, running from Lake Morton to East Bay Street via Kentucky and Tennessee avenues and to the Joinery on Lake Mirror from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., according to the proposed routes.
“That loop needs to be extremely tight. What they learned in Tampa was, if the loops too big and people miss it, they’re just going to walk,” said Phillips.
The Lakeland Downtown Development Authority will work with area hotels to provide guests with tokens to easily access “The Squeeze” services.
“Then they’re more likely to not jump in their cars and go down to chain restaurants. They’re more likely to stay downtown and spend their money,” said Julie Townsend, executive director of Lakeland Downtown Development Authority.
The services will launch in early fall, once the three carts are manufactured.