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Date of Issue: January 21, 2009

Trolley advertising less than a success

The advertising campaign for the Manatee Trolley has proven to be less than a stellar success.

Manatee County Area Transit division manager Ralf Heseler said that only one advertiser — the Beach Bistro restaurant in Holmes Beach — took out a $384 12-week ad on the trolley’s interior, scrolling, electronic message board.

The sum of advertising is a far cry from the $50,000 officials hoped to reap annually.

Heseler addressed the Island Transportation Planning Organization Jan. 12. The group is comprised of mayors representing Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach.

The Manatee Trolley on Anna Maria Island offers free fares to riders. From Oct. 1, 2007 through Sept. 31, 2008, there were 474,782 riders on the bus, which travels from Coquina Beach to the Anna Maria City Pier 365 days a year from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Cost of the trolley operation is about $1 million a year. Federal and state grants pay a portion of the tab for its operation, as well as Manatee County.

Last year, Heseler said, the operation faced a $50,000 shortfall. The three Island cities then ponied up $8,000 each to keep the trolley free for riders, with the Manatee County Tourist Development Council picking up the rest of the needed funding.

The agreement with the cities included reimbursement if the advertising program proved successful, which it has not to date.

Heseler said the grant funding will be greatly diminished in two years, leaving an estimated $235,000 shortfall. Just what will happen at that point is uncertain, he said.

One idea is to merge the transit systems in Manatee and Sarasota counties. That concept, among others, is expected to be discussed at a special workshop with Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization members at 8:30 a.m. Monday, Jan. 26, at Sudakoff Center, 5700 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, at the New College-USF campus.

Another item that will come up at the MPO meeting is the creation of a design review committee to address the look of any bridge to replace the Anna Maria Island Bridge between Holmes Beach and Perico Island.

Florida Department of Transportation officials are completing a $10 million renovation of the span, which they estimate will extend the life of the 51-year-old bridge another 10 years.

A majority of Island residents have indicated a willingness for a new bridge. Its exact height and configuration are yet to be determined, as well as cost, funding and construction dates.

Former Manatee County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann suggested last year that a bridge study team be formed. The concept was embraced by DOT District 1 Secretary Stan Cann, but needs MPO approval, said former Bradenton Beach mayor and Save Anna Maria historian Katie Pierola.