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County explores funding for Siesta trolley

Based on the early success of the Siesta Key Breeze, officials are intent on keeping the transit option going. Now, they just need to figure out how to pay for it.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. June 1, 2017
County officials are searching for a way to keep the Siesta Key Breeze trolley service free.
County officials are searching for a way to keep the Siesta Key Breeze trolley service free.
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Few things in life are free — so if county officials get their way, the Siesta Key Breeze trolley service will remain in select company for its riders.

At a workshop Friday, the County Commission discussed the future of the free service, which runs from Siesta Key Village to Turtle Beach and back. After its launch in March for a six-month trial, the trolley has transported more than 1,600 riders daily.

Funding for the Siesta Key Breeze, which comes from a state grant, will run out in August. The county hasn’t identified a long-term funding source, but already, officials intend to extend the service for at least another six months.

During the workshop, some residents expressed concern the service would lapse after the initial trial window ends. County Administrator Tom Harmer said that won’t be the case, and that officials want to gather more information before the commission makes a bigger decision on the future of the route.

“Before February, we anticipate coming back to you with the full results of an extended period of pilot and a plan that would address the cost of the route and keep it going in some form or fashion,” Harmer said to the commission Friday.

The service, which runs seven days a week, costs just more than $1 million annually to operate, Harmer said.

Commissioners Al Maio and Nancy Detert said the trolley is popular among residents and visitors. Both expressed an interest in keeping the service free.

“Sometimes, for a million bucks, you’re getting $5 million worth of goodwill and a happier experience,” Detert said.

Sarasota County Area Transit spokeswoman Kendra Keiderling said the county hasn’t secured any external funding to extend the trial period, but it’s still exploring its options for grants. Despite a downtick in activity in May,  which officials anticipated,  SCAT and county staff are still pleased with the results thus far.

“We’ll do whatever it takes internally to find the funding,” Keiderling said.


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