Five new 35-foot diesel trolleys will roll along Anna Maria Island’s north/south transit route within the next year.
The Manatee County Board of Commissioners Sept. 28 voted unanimously to purchase the trolleys using federal funding. The cost, according to finance director Jim Seuffert, is $2,295,565, with each trolley from the California-based Gillig Corporation costing $459,113. Gillig currently provides buses for the Manatee County Area Transit.
The trolleys would replace the current fleet, which includes vehicles prone to breakdowns, according to Manatee County administrator Ed Hunzeker.
“In the long run, what we need is different trolleys,” Hunzeker told commissioners last week.
The existing open-air trolleys are operating seven days a week, from about 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
“They just weren’t designed for that,” Hunzeker said. “Thee trolleys are not rugged enough for that type of service. The long-run fix is we just need better trolleys.”
MCAT director Ralf Heseler, in a brief memo, wrote, “The present fleet of trolleys which have passed the life cycle.”
Replacement vehicles would arrive in about a year.
In the meantime, Hunzeker said, the existing trolleys may be held in reserve to operate during the busiest tourism periods.
“These trolleys are worn out,” Hunzeker said. So one approach is to use more buses on the Anna Maria Island route and “then, during the peak season, we put the trolleys back in service.”
County Commissioner John Chappie, who represents Anna Maria Island, suggested that at least one open-air trolley be kept in operation.
“If there’s any way possible,” he said. “I hate to lose what we’ve gained all these years.… The trolley is a real asset.”
Commissioners also briefly discussed the replacement trolleys.
Commissioner Joe McClash requested photographs and other details to review at a future meeting and asked that practicality be considered in submitting the final purchase order.
Cloth seats, for example, might not be best for beachgoers in damp swimsuits or the passengers who sit down after them, McClash said.
He also said MCAT drivers told him the trolleys are more difficult to drive than regular buses.
Hunzeker said he’d present more information to the board at an upcoming meeting, as well as bring to commissioners a proposal to compensate the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce, which sold contracts for advertisements on the trolleys.
Last year, in an effort to avoid the institution of a fare on the trolleys, the Island community, led by the chamber, committed to raising at least $60,000 for the transportation service.
There were three revenue streams — an Islandwide festival, donation boxes on the trolleys and an advertising campaign on the vehicles.
The festival did not generate money, and with trolleys either off the road because of mechanical problems or because they are held in reserve, people cannot drop money in the donation boxes.
Additionally, said Hunzeker, it’s not fair for Island businesses to pay for advertising that isn’t being seen.
“My recommendation to the board at the next meeting will be that we put the program on hold for one more year,” Hunzeker said, referring to the advertising campaign administered by the chamber.
The county would offset the loss of revenue from the chamber with revenue from its new concessionaire at the Manatee Public Beach.
The money the chamber gave the county would be refunded, Hunzeker said.
“Your agreement is with the Island chamber,” Hunzeker said. “Their agreement is with the advertisers. We’re trying to be fair about this.… Rather than nickel and dime it, let’s just admit that it didn’t work right and come back with a solution.”