MANATEE — The Longboat Key Trolley hasn’t hit the end of the line just yet.
Poised to eliminate its support of the two-year-old transit service Tuesday, Manatee County commissioners switched gears and decided to give the county administrator at least two more days to find a way to keep the buses and trolleys rolling.
Several town of Longboat Key officials, including Town Manager Bruce St. Denis and Vice Mayor Jim Brown, attended Tuesday’s meeting and pleaded with commissioners to retain the service, which connects Coquina Beach on Anna Maria Island to downtown Sarasota through Longboat Key.
“Our citizens are concerned, our businesses are concerned with the loss of this link that is well-needed,” Brown said.
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At first, commissioners appeared unmoved. They said they were committed to saving $146,000, which represents one-third of the trolley’s operational cost. Sarasota County picks up the remaining two-thirds.
Until this summer, a Florida Department of Transportation grant covered most of Manatee County’s portion. County staff proposed ending support of the service Oct. 1.
Administrator Ed Hunzeker said the trolley route, also known as Route 18, has by far the lowest ridership among Manatee County Area Transit lines. He said the county pays $75 per revenue hour for a route that attracts an average of just 1.6 riders per hour in Manatee County.
“We have a budget we need to meet,” Commission Chairman Donna Hayes said. “There’s going to be a reduction in services. ... There is a time when you make tough decisions.”
That time was not Tuesday.
Commissioner Joe McClash suggested the county extend funding for its portion of the trolley through the end of the year, paying for it out of reserves. But Commissioner John Chappie, who represents the islands, asked Hunzeker to meet with Longboat Key and Sarasota County officials and report back during Thursday’s public hearing on the 2011 budget.
“This is kinda the last shot at it,” Chappie said. “I think it is a worthwhile thing.”