Manatee County staff has recommended the Manatee County Commission discontinue funding its portion of the Longboat Key trolley service.
Public Works Director Juan Florensa sent an e-mail to Town Manager Bruce St. Denis Sept. 1 alerting him that a Florida Department of Transportation grant that has helped Manatee County fund $285,000 in annual trolley service fees for the Key expired in August. The county is using additional funds to keep the trolley service operational through the end of September.
“Based on ridership statistics and funding shortfalls, Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT) staff recommended the discontinuation of their portion of the service,” wrote Florensa.
The Manatee County Commission will make its final decision during 2010-11 fiscal-year budget hearings scheduled for later this month in Bradenton.
Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) and MCAT have jointly operated the Longboat Key trolley system, which provides a continuous loop of service from Anna Maria Island into downtown Sarasota, since July 2008.
The current level of service is every 30 minutes until 10:30 p.m., seven days a week and on holidays. Sarasota County is responsible for two-thirds of the trolley funding.
Preparing for the lack of service in Manatee County, SCAT officials are recommending to the Sarasota County Commission that the county continue funding a portion of the trolley to provide a reduced level of service on the Key, Florensa said.
Sarasota County is considering taking over the Manatee County portion of the route up to Coquina Beach on Anna Maria Island. But taking over that responsibility, Florensa said, would require the county to extend wait times at trolley stops from 30 minutes to 90 minutes.
Sarasota County is also considering ending its Key trolley route at Bay Isles Road, which would extend trolley wait times from 30 minutes to 60 minutes.
The Sarasota County Commission will also make a decision on its Key trolley service this month in budget meetings.
“Discussions with Manatee County staff leads me to believe that these funding shortfalls and resultant level of service reductions are almost inevitable,” Florensa said.
Commissioner David Brenner, has expressed concern with the trolley’s demise and/or reduced level of service.
“It is understood that the current economic situation is not good, but any action to eliminate service on the Key is a significant deterrent to getting workers here, not to mention those tourists who use the service,” wrote Brenner, in an e-mail to St. Denis. “I guess we need to remind the counties that we foot a substantial part of their budgets and any such cut should be considered county-wide and not just here.”
St. Denis said the town has been making those types of points to both counties during ongoing discussions about the trolley service this summer.
“They (the counties) argue that they are making decisions based on ridership and cost effectiveness of the routes,” St. Denis wrote in an e-mail to Brenner. “The fact that we are in two counties is not helping the case.”
Ridership levels for the Longboat Key trolley route hover at approximately 10,000 riders per month, with numbers falling to approximately 7,500 riders per month in the summer months.
On average, less than 4,000 riders ride the trolley service per month on Longboat Key during the summer in each county.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at Kschultheis@yourobserver.com.