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Date of Issue: January 23, 2008

Hey! Ride the trolley! It's free! New marketing plan offered

“Trolley-up” is getting a thumbs up by Island leaders. Now, it will be up to Manatee County officials to endorse the proposal.

Bradenton Beach’s WAVES committee - that’s Waterfronts: Accessible, Viable, Ecological and Sustainable - offered a thought of increasing the marketing of the Manatee Trolley on Anna Maria Island as a means to reduce traffic.

Of special concern to Bradenton Beach is having people park their vehicles somewhere other than the busy business district and increasing the use of the free trolley to visit the city, a move that would improve a longstanding parking problem in the Bridge Street area.

“Trolley-up” would increase marketing efforts of the trolley by Manatee County Area Transit, as WAVES members envision the effort. A partnership has been proposed, at least in Bradenton Beach, whereby trolley riders would receive a token redeemable at participating businesses for a special discount on goods.

Also considered, a part of the marketing program is adding a trolley stop at the east end of Bridge Street near the city pier, as well as increasing the trolley hours of operation.

Ron Hosey, MCAT transit planner, heard the proposal last week and said taking the trolley down Bridge Street on both southbound and northbound runs could be “a doable thing.”

He warned that the matter would have to get myriad blessings from local government, MCAT officials and eventually the Manatee County Commission.

Expanded hours of operation could also be accomplished, although trolley costs run $65.50 per hour per bus.

WAVES committee members and area businesses have argued that expanding hours of operation of the trolley service, at least in Bradenton Beach, could allow employees to “park and ride” at Coquina Beach.

But for restaurant employees, the 10:30 p.m. end of the public service presents a problem when they don’t get off work until later in the evening.

Route and schedule changes are eventually subject to city commission ratification. Further discussion by the committees will take place prior to any formal request to the city, then to MCAT, then the county commission.

In related MCAT business, Hosey said fare increases have taken place on the mainland for transit riders, while the trolley remains free of charge for its users, at least for the next few years - with a little help from its friends, the Island cities.

Hosey said bus fares went from $1 to $1.25 recently. Transfers are 25 cents each. Monthly unlimited ridership is available for $30, up from the previous $25, and for seniors, the monthly charge went from $14 to $15.

“It’s the first fare increase in more than 20 years,” he added.

Also within the equation for transit fans is a connection with Sarasota County Area Transit at Coquina Beach, allowing patrons to ride a bus to St. Armands Circle and then connect to downtown Sarasota and elsewhere in Sarasota County.

Trolley service on Longboat Key is also in the works, with start-up dates varying from either February to April this year, Hosey said.