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Island Trolley sets record, concerns raised

By Rick Catlin, Islander Reporter

Ridership of the fare-free Island Trolley increased 24.8 percent for the period February-April 2012 compared with the same three months of 2011, an increase of 34,311 passengers. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

Many Island residents and accommodation industry owners, managers and rental agents are thanking their lucky stars for the fare-free Island trolley.

Ridership of the trolley, which began operating in 2002, set a one-month record in March 2012 with 64,663 passengers. That outdistanced March 2011 — the previous one-month record — by 21.5 percent, when 53,238 passengers boarded the trolley.

The trolley carried 172,549 passengers in the three-month period from February-April 2012, an increase of 24.8 percent from the 138,238 passengers who rode the trolley during the same three months in 2011, according to figures on the Manatee County website.

Without the fare-free trolley, a lot more cars and drivers would be on Island roads every day, said Holmes Beach Police Chief Jay Romine.

He said that without the trolley the Island might have had serious congestion on its roads many days during the season. Additionally law enforcement officers from all three Island cities might have been pressed into service as traffic control officers on many occasions, were it not for the trolley taking vehicles off Island roads.

“Thank you trolley,” said Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce president Mary Ann Brockman.

“Without the trolley, it would have been extremely difficult to move around the Island this past season,” said David Teitelbaum, owner of four Bradenton Beach resorts.

“And it appears this was the best season on record. I would not be surprised if we had nearly 150,000 visitors for that three-month period,” he said.

Brockman said the fare-free trolley is one of the major boosts for Island tourism, allowing people to come to the Island, park their car, and just use the trolley. It keeps cars off Island roads, provides a safe environment for travel and has become somewhat of a tourist attraction in its own right, she said.

Without the trolley, the Island might not have been able to sustain its tourism growth the past four years, she acknowledged.

Teitelbaum agreed.

“The trolley kept the Island moving this past season. So many people come up to me and say the free trolley is one of the reasons, often the major reason, they decided to come to the Island. I shudder to think where we would be without it,” he said.

With all four properties booked solidly from February through April and from what other accommodation owners, managers and agents have said, Teitelbaum believes it was a record three months for visitors to the Island.

Teitelbaum’s prediction of a record appears to be backed by the trolley passenger figures.

In February 2012, trolley ridership was reported at 49,044, an increase of 40.1 percent from the 35,012 for the same month in 2011.

April 2012 was also a busy month. The county website reports 58,842 riders took advantage of the free service that month, an increase of 17.7 percent from the 50,025 trolley passengers reported for April 2011.

“It all points toward a record year for tourism,” Teitelbaum said.

At the same time, however, some believe the Island should be careful it can accommodate continued growth in the tourism industry.

Anna Maria Commissioner SueLynn said everyone in the tourism industry — property owners and managers, developers and builders of vacation rentals, rental agents, and marketing specialists at the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau need to stop and take a deep breath.

“Please, don’t’ misunderstand me. I love tourism. It’s the lifeblood of our economy. But we only have a finite amount of space on the Island, and only so many parking spaces,” she said.

“We have to ask if we are over-selling tourism to the Island to a point where we can’t accommodate everyone? Our advertising is doing a wonderful job of drawing visitors,” she observed.

However, she said, as elected officials, she and her colleagues need to take a long look at where Island tourism is headed, “not just in Anna Maria, but throughout the Island.”

11 Responses to Island Trolley sets record, concerns raised

  1. diana says:

    The trolly is awesome!!!! I agree that if it weren’t for the trolly traffic would get extremely bad espeically during season. I also think it’s just a nice comfortable way to get around the island and just see the island. It’s something I know tourists enjoy as well. Being free makes it much more used!!

  2. Patrick says:

    It’s not the role of elected politicians to put the brakes on the capitalistic enterprise of the island. Over-tourism is a self-limiting problem: people will stop coming if things get bad.

    I don’t understand why folks have a hard time just letting things be. Advertisements are but a small fraction of what brings people here. The overall quality of their visit is what brings them back.

    Just stay out of it. It’ll take care of itself. People with the money will go where the best enjoy spending it. If AM gets bad, they will go elsewhere. Simple.

    • Heather says:

      A LOT of RESIDENTS might disagree with you Patrick. You see, elected officials like SueLynn are trying to make sure that Anna Maria doesn’t “get bad”. That the island can continue profiting from tourism, but not at the cost of the intrinsic value of our small-town, island community (there aren’t many like ours left out there!). I applaud SueLynn’s notion of finding a happy medium to quality of life here on the island and tourism dollars. To say that “if AM gets bad, they (tourists) will go elsewhere” is the same kind of ‘use-it-up and move on’ mentality that RUINS COMMUNITIES, not to mention ECONOMIES.

      • John Gage says:

        I totally agree with you Heather. How do you think places like Daytona got how they did Patrick? We are already seeing a major shift in the demographic that is visiting the Island. Once it was the snowbird who liked to rent the old cracker cottages for the season. They are now being replaced by large groups wanting to renting large houses and party – dare I say a Spring Break destination. To say the island needs tourism to survive is a misnomer. The tourists are driving the residents away and this is a far greater problem. The Island was far more ‘valuable’ when it had a strong residential base – people were prepared to pay a premium to live somewhere that offered a quality of life. Now your home is only worth what you can rent it for – considerably less! We are fast turning it into a resort no different to anywhere else in Florida – anyway you look at it the overdevelopment and tourism is of no benefit tithe residents.

      • Tracey says:

        As with everything in life it is all about striking a balance. Not polarizing differing opinions. There are two sides to every story and all are entitled to an opinion.
        Tourism is critical. Yet the very thing that attracts tourists to Anna Maria is critical as well. To throw away what makes something appealing makes no sense. The best solutions (not always the perfect solution) lie in the middle, between the sides of the argument.
        Government has it’s role enforcing existing codes, overturning the bad ones and keeping their eye to the future when planning new zoning, ordinances etc. Keeping their constituents at the forefront of their thinking at all times- not themselves.
        Business should do it’s best to succeed and promote themselves with an eye to the future as well. Overrunning the island is not a good long term business strategy either.
        Citizens of the community need to offer their insight and work towards the best balance via involvement, brain power, their vote, their spending. The model of throwing stones at others does little good other than sell TV ads for cable news.
        No one of character wants to either shoot themselves in the foot for the present nor destroy the things they love for the ones they love. Striving for a balance and applying common sense is a good thing. At the end of the day that will serve everybody best, today and tomorrow. The opposing sides of an argument have to listen and respect the other to find the common ground. That will lead to the best outcome for all.

  3. Island Lover says:

    The Island Trolley really is a valued amenity and crucial to the Island’s wellbeing. With due respect to Sue Lynn tourism is the lifeblood of the Island and should never be under-estimated or under valued. Without the visitors the Island will die. Whether it is our stores, or infra-structure if we allow the tourist market to delince, or go elsewhere we will be starting the death of the Island. More important that we recognise Anna Maria for what it is and preserve all that is good (and the reason that our visitors come and return) rather than looking for ways to limit or reduce our visitors. As has already been stated, there is a limit on Anna Maria by available accommodation, far better that we allow that as a natural restriction than we seek to impose a restriction, or price or regulate the Island out of business and residents at the same time!

    • Heather says:

      “there is a limit on Anna Maria by available accommodation”

      By “limit” to available accommodation, are you referring to the multi-level duplex monstrosities that sleep sixteen+ people?? The ones sprouting up all over the island????

  4. Billy mcDonald says:

    I am from Scotland and vist Anna Maria twice,sometimes three,four times year with my family.We own a Home in Palma Sola trace and have been coming to the Isalnd for 25 years.If I was a business owner on Anna Maria Island I would find it incredible and totally irresponsible that someone in authority like Anna Maria Commissioner Sue Lynn – with a responsibility to keep the many restuarants,cafes, bars,shops,car & boat hire, water sports etc in business – would make any negative comments about over selling tourism for the Islands. It’s mindboggling and in this economic climate could be disastrous if people think that the Islands are over populated and choose to go elsewhere.You wonder how these people ever get voted into major positions.Sad

    • Heather says:

      Billy, we LOVE tourists! We love a healthy economy. However, what officials like SueLynn are suggesting is that we don’t let over-tourism ruin the heart of the community, changing it from a small-town gem with beautiful beaches and chilled out atmosphere, to a crowded, traffic-y, noisy any-town McVacation getaway. If you’re looking for that, try pretty much every other island from here to Key West and back up the other coast!

    • John Gage says:

      If you tried to live here you may also find it devastating to see what was once paradise overrun with tourists! Those of us who bought real estate at great expense did not come here for tourist shops either! The residents have some rights too you may be surprised to hear and I for one commend SueLyn for taking a stand on behalf of the residents. It may come as a surprise to you but there are plenty of us who live here year round, pay extremely large real estate taxes and would like to see our property rights protected.

      • off the island says:

        John,it is what it is.no new bridge ha ha trafic tie up.no bridge to longboat ha ha trafic tie up.you did to youself.move off the island low taxes,more shops and not all the resturants are owned by the ex gov. son

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