Bed-tax collections, along with anecdotal evidence from local hoteliers and business owners, suggest that the Key has had its busiest summer in recent memory.
But you wouldn’t guess that from looking at the latest Longboat Key trolley ridership numbers.
Average daily ridership for the route was down 12% last July compared to July 2011, according to data provided to the town by Sarasota County Area Transit. In fact, the number of riders was down for every month except for April during the first seven months of the year in comparison to 2011.
Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce President Tom Aposporos, who led a group that gathered trolley information in late 2010 and early 2011, cautioned against reading too much into the decrease. With already low numbers, a fluctuation of just a few riders could amount to a substantial increase or decrease.
Aposporos said that the real question is how the town should define success.
Many riders are Longboat Key workers or visitors. But the decline in tourism units, most recently through the loss of 237 units two years ago at the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort, translates to a loss of riders, as well.
“The real question we need to face is how many riders there are for mass transit for Longboat Key,” Aposporos said.
Mayor Jim Brown, who questioned the $42,000 Longboat Key gives to Manatee County to fund its leg of the trolley route during budget discussions, needed more information.
“I am suspicious of the numbers we got and need to see more data,” Brown said. “Sarasota County is in the midst of finding a new Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) director, so we will need to create a dialogue with that person when he or she comes aboard. There also must be a dialogue with Manatee County before a decision is made to fund this route at the end of the year.”
Aposporos said that he would like to see a comprehensive effort between the town and transit officials to draw attention to the trolley, with the chamber playing whatever role officials believe would be most helpful.
The following numbers represent the average daily ridership for the Longboat Key route on MCAT and SCAT vehicles combined.
Month | 2011 | 2012
January | 389 | 231
February | 326 | 259
March | 287 | 250
April | 218 | 239
May | 203 | 185
June | 203 | 186
July | 207 | 182
Source: Sarasota County Area Transit