Attendees parking off-site and riding the shuttles to the 48th annual National Shrimp Festival this weekend will be going old school in transportation provided by a new school.
“For a mere $5 a day, we are offering you the flashback experience of riding a school bus to and from the Shrimp Festival,” festival chairman Spencer Cade said during an update on the event at a Coastal Alabama Business Chamber breakfast on Oct. 4.
With the county’s BRATS system pulling out of the fest after providing shuttle service for years, organizers turned to Gulf Shores City Schools to provide transportation on traditional yellow school buses.
“Our newest challenge was BRATS,” Cade told the chamber gathering. “On short notice they communicated to us they were unable to provide shuttles for this year’s festival. We now had to figure out how to move approximately 18,000 people to and from the Shrimp Festival. Bring on the Gulf Shores City School System. On short notice, Superintendent Dr. Matt Akin, [school board President] Kevin Corcoran, [Coach] Marcus Early and his team, Dolphin Athletic Club and Gulf Shores Marching Band rallied together to make shuttles happen.”
Director of Transportation for BRATS Matthew Brown said the service has lost some big contracts in the past few months and is paring back services.
“As a result, there’s been a reduction in drivers,” Brown said. “We were down in terms of our drivers by about 25 percent. And that’s anybody in our team who can drive, including some of our mechanics. Normally, we would have everybody for Shrimp Fest, and being down 25 percent, we just didn’t have the force to do our normal service in addition to Shrimp Fest.”
In the past, BRATS has provided shuttle services to the Shrimp Fest, Orange Beach Festival of Art, Baldwin County Strawberry Festival and the Fairhope Arts and Crafts Festival. All that’s about to change.
On Oct. 14 the service will have a public hearing in Robertsdale to discuss eliminating all festivals using BRATS services after fiscal year 2020. The 9 a.m. meeting at the BRATS office on County Road 54 will be for public comment on the move from festivals.
“When those contracts went away, we no longer needed as many of our larger buses,” Brown said. “We found ourselves sitting with about 50 buses and a number of those buses being large buses and those buses just weren’t getting used. When they did get used in our normal door-to-door service it made it look like we were using large buses to transport just a few people which looks very inefficient and it is inefficient.”
The winner in this will be school groups in Gulf Shores who will use the shuttle service as a fundraiser for the Dolphin Athletic Club and the school’s marching band.
“Without the city school system, we basically wouldn’t be able to offer a shuttle service at all this year,” Cade said. “I really didn’t think they were going to do it. I figured there’d be a liability reason or something. They checked with their attorney and they decided to take a stab at it.”
The 48th Annual National Shrimp Festival is scheduled Oct. 10 to 13 in Gulf Shores. Information is available at myshrimpfest.com.
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