After three years of negotiations, the various entities that oversee Sandestin, including property owners the Becnel family, the Hilton Sandestin, individual management companies and the Sandestin Owners Association, have signed a three-year contract with Sunshine Shuttle to provide free tram service for people who stay at the resort.
“The whole idea behind this is bringing in a green element where people don’t have to necessarily drive here anymore. They don’t have to rent cars,” said John Finch, owner of Sunshine Shuttle.
Sunshine Shuttle will pick up visitors at the airport, and there are several tram routes throughout Sandestin that can reach any destination there within 30 minutes of pickup.
The tram service was tested in March during spring break and officially launched at the beginning of April. During the peak summer season, Sunshine Shuttle will offer eight trams throughout the day.
“The environmental impact it has on the community has been received in a very positive way, and it helps with the traffic congestion,” Finch said. “One tram holds 25 people. That could be up to 25 cars off the road. You have six or eight of them going, and all visitors will immediately see the positive impact.”
Sunshine Shuttle has also launched a new mobile site that allows users to pull up the tram routes and their actual location in real time to plan their outings.
Sunshine Shuttle launched about eight years go with a fleet of two vehicles. Finch saw a need for shuttle service while vacationing in the area and being stranded twice on Walton County Road 30A when vehicles that were supposed to pick him up were no-shows.
Since then, Sunshine Shuttle has grown to the largest ground transportation company in Northwest Florida, with a fleet of more than 50 vehicles and service 24-hour a day, seven days a week.
“Outside of the hospitality industry, we are the largest employer in this area, and continue to create new jobs as we secure current and future contracts,” said Alan Roberts, who handles sales and marketing for Sunshine Shuttle.
The company also has expanded into to two other divisions, Sunshine Limousine and Sunshine Coach, which offers buses that can hold more than 50 passengers.
“We have really found a niche,” Finch said. “It’s not coming in as a cab or a taxi. We come in at the top of the market providing just a complete, professional way of providing ground transportation, and that’s why the community, the commissioners and the boards have really supported our vision and what we’re bringing here to the Emerald Coast.”
Roberts said the early success of the program shows that Tallahassee doesn’t always hold the answers to solving local problems like traffic gridlock.
“This program was put together with zero funding from the government,” said Roberts. “Working together for the greater good of the community is best for all employers, big and small.”