Communication Builds Our Community

Lake Wales Has a Good "Squeeze" Coming

City Commission Gives Nod To Downtown Shuttle

In an effort to help address the need for transportation around the downtown area, City Manager James Slaton and staff have brought another solution forward.

The "Squeeze" is an eight-passenger open vehicle which has already proven successful in downtown Lakeland, according to Erin Killebrew, who presented the concept during a special presentation to the Community Redevelopment Agency board.

The proposal would provide the vehicle as a free service to riders needing to move around the area.

Killebrew called the proposal a way to "connect what's not connected" during construction downtown as Park Avenue is being completely revamped. The vehicle may become a long-term part of the transportation network as future work is anticipated to occur on several other downtown streets. It is seen as one way to help address a nagging perception by merchants and others of limited parking downtown.

Killebrew said that Citrus Connection was approached by Lake Wales Main Street to consider the service, and Main Street has offered to pay half the $56,000 operating cost for the one-year pilot program. Slaton described the deal as a "four way partnership" between the CRA, Main Street, the city, and Citrus Connection. He said that he "will be asking the CRA board to cover the other half since we're disrupting things downtown" with the ongoing street construction.

Slaton also told the board that he would propose using the city's new multi-modal mobility fee fund to purchase the carts. That fund receives revenue from new construction in the city. The board, consisting of Lake Wales City Commissioners in their alternate roles, reacted favorably to the proposal.

Killebrew said that the Citrus Connection "will take all the liability with us" but that the city will need to purchase and own the vehicles. Two are required because the law states that such services must have a back-up vehicle in case of mechanical issues.

The Citrus Connection currently provides bus service in Lake Wales through a local "circulator" that loops on a single route around the city on a 40-minute schedule. That bus also connects to a wider network that may carry riders to points around the county. Lake Wales is only the second city in the county, after Lakeland, to offer a local circulator.

Killebrew told commissioners that ridership on the Lake Wales circulator has so far been surprising, far exceeding the expectations of the Citrus Connection staff when it was initiated in October. She also informed the board that a new stop is being added at the Lake Wales Library.

The new Squeeze shuttle is expected to connect to bus stop locations downtown, easing movement throughout the city.

"We'll run it for a year and see how it goes, and if it's successful, we'll run it the following and subsequent years," Slaton said.


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