Free shuttle program hopes to alleviate St. Pete parking problems

For George Sexton, a bartender at downtown St. Petersburg's Oyster Bar, watching people drive around and around the block on weekend evenings is a sport.

"The hostess and I will sit there, right there, and count," Sexton told FOX 13 News. "I've seen over a dozen times easy, same car going over. We make a game out of it, you know."

St. Petersburg transportation director Evan Mory wants to take some of those cars off the street.  Perhaps a lot of them.

"We have two major garages downtown that have over a thousand spaces in them each," Mory said.  "They really don't fill up, but our street parking does."

That under-utilized capacity is part of a pilot program that started Friday night.  Dubbed "Park Once," on Fridays and Saturdays from 5:00 p.m. to midnight, free shuttles will ferry garage parkers to the waterfront or to the Central Arts District further to the west.

"Just make it a habit to park in one of these garages, come downstairs and catch a shuttle," Mory offered.

The pilot program is funded for six months, and if it is successful, might be expanded into the Edge and Grand Central Districts.  The Park Once shuttles promise pickups every 10 minutes.