BY JACK SHORT – It’s probably tough to find a full-time Florida resident who, during any given season, doesn’t think it’s the worst one yet. And of course, by “worst” they usually mean “busiest,” although business owners may hope for and revel in as many visitors as possible to make up for slower business during off-season months.
This year’s season, at least through February, was certainly busier than last year’s – by six percent. Gasparilla Island State Parks Manager Chad Lach remarked at a recent Barrier Island Parks Society meeting that park officials had been forced to begin closing parking lots, because those lots had reached capacity, earlier this year than in recent years. But anecdotal evidence only means so much.
A good measure of traffic on the island during season is, well, traffic. Since every vehicle that comes onto the island is counted, that metric is easier to examine in Boca Grande than in many other places.
The Gasparilla Island Bridge Authority provided the Beacon with a report of traffic and revenue counts for the 2015 season so far, compared to the same period during the 2014 season. In both cases, the reported numbers reflect traffic and tolls from October through February. November was the only month that reflected even a small decline in revenue, which includes cash tolls and customer service, but the increases during remaining months were not consistently high.
Cash tolls from last year to this year, for example, increased 21 percent in January but only two percent in February. Revenue from customer service increased relatively little in January, by three percent, but more dramatically in February, by nine percent.
Traffic did not decline during any of the months reported, but increases were similarly uneven.
October and December saw the lion’s share of increased traffic, with 12 percent and 10 percent spikes, respectively, when compared to last year, while increases were relatively small in November and February.
The average increase over last year for both revenue and traffic was 6 percent – 383,560 vehicles crossed the bridge from October through February in 2014, and during the same period in 2015 the total was 409,761.