The Longboat Key trolley system could be in jeopardy.
A grant that funds the Manatee County portion of the Longboat Key trolley route has almost expired, and local officials are trying to determine how the island’s portion of the trolley service can be salvaged.
As part of a 50/50 split with Sarasota County, Manatee County has paid $285,000 annually since the Longbout route was created in June 2008.
But that grant expires this month, and the county does not have the money to continue to fund its portion of the route.
Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie, who says that the Anna Maria Island trolley route is now funded strictly through business advertising on vehicles through an effort by the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce, does not want to see the service discontinued.
“I flagged this item during the county’s budget process because I wanted to make sure we gave Sarasota and Longboat Key time to figure out a revenue source,” he said.
In the meantime, Manatee County has agreed to fund its portion of the service through the end of its fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
Manatee County officials have contacted Town Manager Bruce St. Denis, who expects to make the item a topic of discussion at a future Town Commission meeting.
Currently, ridership levels for the Longboat Key trolley hover at approximately 10,000 riders per month, with numbers falling to approximately 7,500 riders per month in the summer months.
“Ridership is not bad there, and employees count on that trolley to get to work at the local hotels,” Chappie said. “We don’t want to damage the system.”
The Manatee County Commission will discuss the trolley issue during August budget workshops.
Manatee County Area Transit Manager Ralph Hessler says that Sarasota County is willing to continue the service with a similar monetary arrangement to what is in place now, with one notable change.
Counties from both transit offices are suggesting a one-hour frequency at trolley stops as opposed to the current half-hour frequency, which would reduce both counties’ costs from $285,000 per year to $116,000.
Chappie, however, hopes the counties and Longboat Key can find a way to keep the current half-hour frequency schedule.
“We don’t want tourists and workers to have such a long wait time,” Chappie said.
Town Commissioner Robert Siekmann is also monitoring the situation closely, calling the potential departure of the island’s trolley “a big loss.”
Sarasota County Commission Vice Chairwoman Nora Patterson, however, is hopeful a mutual agreement can be reached with all parties.
“It’s a step backward to cancel the continuous route,” Patterson said. “But there is a limit to what everyone can afford.”
The 30-minute trolley service runs continuously from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m seven days a week.
The service runs in conjunction with Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT) trolley service on Anna Maria Island and Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT).
Riders heading northbound on Longboat Key can board an MCAT trolley for continued travel to the northern tip of Anna Maria Island. MCAT trolley service is free.
It costs 75 cents to ride the SCAT route, which runs southbound from Coquina Beach, down Longboat Key, through St. Armands Circle and into downtown Sarasota.
A one-way trip from Coquina Beach to downtown Sarasota with a stop at St. Armands Circle is estimated to take about 30 minutes.
Two trolleys operate in opposite directions at all times, and one should reach a designated stop every 30 minutes.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected]