Longboat Key’s trolley service will continue, after the Manatee County Commission agreed to pay for the service through the end of the year.
At an evening budget session Thursday, Sept. 16, the Manatee County Commission agreed to pay approximately $70,000 to continue the service until a long-term resolution can be reached with Sarasota County and the town of Longboat Key.
Longboat Key Commissioners Jim Brown, David Brenner, Robert Siekmann and Phillip Younger attended the budget hearing in Bradenton, along with former Mayor Jeremy Whatmough, to make sure the county didn’t eliminate its $285,000 trolley route that runs from Coquina Beach on Anna Maria Island to the Longboat Key Hilton Beachfront Resort.
Earlier in the day Sept. 16, the Longboat Key Town Commission held a special meeting at Town Hall to approve a resolution that urged both counties to continue its service.
“We have to support this service through tourist season and beyond,” said Brown, noting that the Sarasota County Commission had already agreed to continue paying for its $700,000 trolley route, which runs from the Longboat Key Hilton Beachfront Resort into downtown Sarasota, as long as Manatee County agreed to keep paying for its portion.
Town Manager Bruce St. Denis told the Town Commission he will continue to work with both Manatee and Sarasota County officials to reach a long-term agreement for the trolley route.
The short-term agreement was reached, despite a contentious conversation held between Brown and some Manatee County commissioners Sept. 14.
At the county’s regular meeting, Brown noted the town contributes more than $20 million in taxes annually to the county’s budget.
“We don’t ask you for police or fire services or to help us with our roads and utilities,” Brown said at the Sept. 14 meeting. “But we do need a bus service.”
The comments irritated county commissioners, who noted that Anna Maria Island and Lakewood Ranch residents pay similar taxes each year.
Looking back, Brown said he has no regrets about the comments made.
“What I said was true,” Brown said. “We don’t ask them for anything.”
Despite the route’s shortcomings (it only averages 1.5 riders per hour), Siekmann noted it provides a service that both counties claim they strive for in their transportation-management goals.
“At the end of the day, this route is an integral part of the regional transportation system and it’s an essential link in the chain,” Siekmann said.
By the Numbers
Longboat Key trolley ridership statistics show that in August, the service had approximately 295 riders, or approximately 10 riders per day.
And in March 2009, the same trolley route had 500 riders, or approximately 16 riders per day.
Comparing Trolley Funding
At the Manatee County Commission regular meeting Sept. 14, in Bradenton, County Commissioner Carol Whitmore suggested to Longboat Key Vice Mayor Jim Brown that the island’s trolley service could be saved if ways were created to sustain the service.
Whitmore suggested the Longboat Key, Lido Key, St. Armands Key Chamber of Commerce should figure out a way to pay for the route, noting that the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce funds the $80,000 free trolley service through advertising alone.
But Longboat Key, Lido Key, St. Armands Key Chamber of Commerce President Tom Aposporos, who lives in Anna Maria, told the Town Commission Sept. 16, at a special meeting, the trolley funding situation on Anna Maria is far from perfect and not self-sustaining.
Aposporos noted that Manatee County only uses one trolley on Anna Maria Island, which breaks down frequently, and relies on two other trolleys from Sarasota to maintain its service.
“The budget created to maintain the free trolley is not always sufficient,” said Aposporos, who explained that the island’s three cities each contribute $8,000 to the county for the service and the chamber contributes $60,000 that comes from advertising that’s slapped on to the side of the trolleys.
“But the chamber is just the conduit for receiving the money and paying it out,” Aposporos said. “If enough advertising revenue isn’t collected, additional funds are needed to keep the service running for free.”
Aposporos also noted the town would have an issue creating a similar arrangement on Longboat Key because it’s dealing with both counties and Sarasota County has no agreement in place that allows for advertising on its trolleys.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at email@example.com.