Las Vegas fleet of Teslas to shape new kind of transportation system

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The Greenlight Pinellas transit initiative supporters hoped would re-shape the face of multi-modal transportation not just in the county, but across the region, is dead. But the concept of increasing transit options is still very much alive.

Officials in Hillsborough County continue to grapple with putting their own transit plans before voters in 2016, though those efforts could be greatly altered by the fate of Greenlight Pinellas. Transit officials and supporters in Pinellas are going back to the drawing board to figure out what to do next to keep the transportation conversation alive and well.

Meanwhile, across the country in Las Vegas, a private company has entered the alternative transportation business armed with a fleet of 100 Teslas.

The super-awesome, nifty fleet of electric cars aren’t the only component of Shift that make it the envy of Pinellas County’s now stalled transit efforts. The $13 million project uses a digital system to connect members to the mode of transportation that makes the most sense for them to get from point A to point B. That could be in a valeted trip with a personal driver. It could be behind the wheel of a Tesla yourself. Or it could be on a bike.

A web-based app uses a mathematical algorithm to determine which mode is best for a user. A longer trip to a destination that has its own parking may prompt a member to hop behind the wheel of a Tesla and drive themselves. Other trips warranting a drive, but that don’t have easy access to parking may send a car with a driver. Short trips may direct a user to a bicycle and trips that are likely to have multiple people riding could send a shuttle.

The service, said to rival companies like Uber and Lyft who also use web apps to quickly connect users to a ride, is membership based rather than pay-per-use. The company isn’t releasing specifics on what prices are just yet, but according to the Washington Post, prices could range anywhere from $25 for bike-only use all the way up to $500 for frequent users. One high end package called “Vallet+” would give members unlimited access to valet services.

Among other cool features this private startup is hoping to launch in Vegas is the “drunk bus.” The idea there is to pick up late night partiers crawling around downtown Vegas and get them safely to their destinations. Instead of a public bus with its vast repertoire of negative stereotypes, owners envision the drunk bus being more of a party bus where the already inebriated get handed another drink and some fun music blaring in the background.

Whatever the final product ends up looking like, it’s a startup that pushes the limits of conventional wisdom on how to integrate multi-modal transportation.

Officials in Pinellas County wanted to offer robust bus services and a light rail line they say would have been a magnet for economic development. But voters just weren’t willing to pony up an extra one-penny sales tax to pay for it all. The conversation about where to go during the post-mortem Greenlight Pinellas days is only just beginning, but with systems like these taking flight in other cities, the county will have a lot of fodder to make a move.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.