Sarasota County

Sarasota Commissioners discuss ideas for paid parking at Siesta Key

SIESTA KEY, Fla. (WFLA) - Siesta Key Beach is one of the most popular beaches in the country. But with that distinction comes some drawbacks: there is increasing congestion and a lack of parking spaces.

For the past year, Sarasota County officials have been researching possible solutions. Commissioners discussed some of the findings at a Wednesday meeting.

Sarasota County and Manatee County are the only two beach communities in southwest Florida that do not charge for parking.

Currently there are 1,330 public parking spaces at Siesta Beach, beach accesses and at Turtle Beach.

Commissioners have been studying other nearby beach communities to see how much they charge for beach parking.

For example, Charlotte County charges 75 cents an hour for beach parking, while Pinellas County charges $5 a day.

Officials are also researching a bike-sharing program and a park and ride program.

With the park and ride proposal, beach-goers would park at a mall and use a bus to get onto Siesta Key. According to documents, the proposed fee would be $5 for a one-way ride.

County officials are also proposing charging a toll to get onto Siesta Key. But they add more research needs to be done on the topic. Officials also suggest using a water taxi to help ferry customers to the beach.

Commissioners are also discussing the idea of building a parking garage on the island and charging for parking.

Commissioners are treading carefully because they know this is a difficult and controversial decision.

“This is new and unique to Sarasota County, the fact that we’re even considering charging for parking there. In the past, we’d all be thrown out of office for even talking about it but now I think times have changed,” said Commissioner Charles Hines.

County officials have reached out to area malls for feedback on a park and ride program. If beach goers can park at a mall’s parking lot to take a bus to the beach, then those beach goers could visit the local stores or restaurants after their return.

County officials say executives from Westfield Siesta Key and Sarasota Pavilion are both open to the idea, but they have indicated an interest in being paid for use of the lots.

“I am totally disheartened by the poor response by the big shopping centers,” said Commissioner Alan Maio.

Commissioner Mike Moran said the county should also explore more partnerships with private companies, such as Uber. He cited recent reports that Uber has acquired a successful electric bicycle company.

“The private sector moves at the speed of light sometimes when we’re running in mud,” said Moran.

Commissioners decided to look into hiring a consultant to help them determine the best multi-pronged solution. They will hold a workshop sometime in September or October.

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