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LBK Trolley prevails, but loses frequency

MANATEE -- Threatened by closure due to budget constraints, the Longboat Key Trolley will survive another year, but at reduced frequency.

Beginning Saturday, the trolley will operate at one-hour intervals instead of 30-minute intervals, from Coquina Beach to points on Longboat Key, the Manatee County Area Transit announced Monday.

The trolley, which has stops roughly two to four blocks apart along its route into Longboat Key, will operate from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. and will still cost 75 cents and 35 cents for seniors older than 60.

The reason for the switch to on-the-hour service is because a Florida Department of Transportation grant expired and there wasn’t sufficient funding to keep the service at its present pace, said Carol Whitmore, a Manatee County commissioner and trolley supporter.

“I’m glad it survived, but I’m disappointed the hours of service went up,” Whitmore said Monday. “It’s been shown that the longer people wait for the trolley, the less ridership you get. We can only hope that with these high gas prices, ridership does not go down.”

The cost to keep the trolley going had been estimated at roughly $600,000 and Manatee, Sarasota and Longboat Key governments all chipped to pay the tab.

“Through a series of meetings and negotiations between Manatee, Sarasota and Longboat Key officials, the service will be funded this year,” MCAT manager Ralf Heseler said in the press release.

The Herald had earlier reported that the town of Longboat Key was paying roughly $40,000 and Sarasota and Manatee counties were funding the rest.

Manatee County commissioner John Chappie said he was concerned that the reduced frequency of operation might most impact those who need the trolley the most -- workers in Longboat Key’s service industry, which includes restaurants and motels.

“There are people who have jobs on Longboat Key but they don’t have a mode of transportation to get there other than the trolley,” Chappie said. “If you miss your trolley now, you only have to wait 20 minutes for another one. But if you miss it on March 12, you will have to wait an hour. That’s a long time to sit and wait.”

The trolley is part of a closed transportation loop that allows passengers to travel from Coquina Beach in Manatee County south to Longboat Key and Main Street in Sarasota, then to the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport and then to Palmetto and Anna Maria Island, before going back to Coquina Beach.

The Coquina Beach to Longboat Key leg uses a trolley while the other legs use MCAT buses.

Trolleys were started on Anna Maria Island in the early 2000s when Whitmore was mayor in Holmes Beach and have gained popularity there. Recently, they have begun to thrive, carrying 1,000 passengers per day through the island, Whitmore said.

The Anna Maria Island trolleys are free to ride, with local businesses supporting them. That’s the direction that Chappie feels the Longboat Key Trolley will now have to go.

“You can ride the trolley to Longboat Key, St. Armand’s and Lido,” Chappie said. “Where else can you travel to three of the world’s most beautiful places all for 35 cents?”

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