Trolley appears fare-free for another year

By Rick Catlin and Lisa Neff

Islander Reporters

 

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Southbound

Riders take the Island Trolley south into Bradenton Beach July 3.

Negotiations between Island and county officials and local

Business people likely resulted in the trolley remaining

fare-free for at least another year. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

 

The Anna Maria Island trolley apparently will motor through fiscal year 2009-10 fare-free.

 

Manatee County administrator Ed Hunzeker agreed with Island mayors June 28 to keep the trolley fare-free, while at the same time endorsing a “Save Our Trolley” campaign proposed by Island businessman

David Teitelbaum.

 

Teitelbaum, who also is a member of the Manatee County Tourist Development Committee, came up with a plan to raise private dollars to help reduce public funding for the trolley operation.

 

Hunzeker had proposed instituting a $1 daily fare for the trolley when he presented his draft budget for 2009-10 to Manatee County commissioners in May. But, at the mid-June budget hearing at which Teitelbaum detailed the Save Our Trolley effort, Hunzeker said he would work with elected officials, the Island business community and concerned citizens to keep he trolley fare-free.

 

Hunzeker found support for Teitelbaum’s plan from the Island mayors.

 

Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger said he assured Hunzeker that he would include $8,000 for the trolley in his draft budget to the city commission. It’s the same amount the city has budgeted the past

two years.

 

“The county is willing to let [the trolley] remain free for another year while we implement Teitelbaum’s plan,” Bohnenberger said. But Bohnenberger and the other Island mayors are not relying solely on the Save Our Trolley campaign.

 

Bohnenberger said the Island Transportation and Planning Organization plans to apply for a Congestive Management Grant from the Florida Department of Transportation to fund in excess of $500,000 for the Island trolley operation in the 2011-12 fiscal year.

 

Bohnenberger said the DOT does not have much money in the congestive management fund for 2010-11, but the amount increases considerably in 2011-12, hence the one-year wait.

 

“I don’t know if we’ll get it, but Mike Howe said the MPO would get behind the grant application,” he said. Howe is the executive director of the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization.

 

Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford said she told Hunzeker she is supportive of the Teitelbaum plan and agreed to include funding for the trolley in her draft budget to the commission. Anna Maria has provided trolley funding for the past two years. But Barford said she also cautioned Hunzeker that the county shouldn’t promise a free trolley for the coming year, then change its mind at the last minute. At least let the Save Our Trolley campaign have a chance to succeed.

“I think the Teitelbaum proposal may work. We’re willing to give it a try and so is Hunzeker,” she said.

But Barford understands why Hunzeker suggested a trolley fare.

 

“The economy is not in good shape. There’s a need for more debate on the trolley-fare suggestion, but the free trolley is a great promotional tool for the Island,” she said.

 

Bradenton Beach Mayor Michael Pierce acknowledged the Island cities part in the operation: “I do know that there is going to have to be some kind of contribution” from the cities. “There is a great benefit with the trolley system being in our area. We don’t want to lose that.”

 

Bradenton Beach city commissioners discussed the city’s commitment to continuing a contribution to the trolley service July 2.

 

“I think this is great,” said Commissioner John Shaughnessy. “If we can keep the trolley free, we have to keep it free.”

 

Save Our Trolley

 

Under the Save Our Trolley plan conceived by Teitelbaum, Island cities and the TDC would continue to subsidize the trolley cost for the next two years, in addition to raising funds with an annual festival, a donation box on the trolley and the sale of naming rights and advertising on the trolleys.

 

The Island cities would contribute $8,000 each to the trolley operation in fi scal year 2010, which begins in October, and the TDC would contribute $26,000. In fiscal year 2011, the Island cities each would contribute $10,000, while the TDC would provide $40,000.

 

Also in 2011, a local fundraising campaign would contribute $50,000 toward the $900,000 operation of the trolley to relieve county taxpayers of some burden. “This is all about self-help,” Teitelbaum said.

The donation boxes on the trolley could open soon. The vehicles already are equipped with boxes that could be used to collect donations, he said. The trolleys already have some of the tools needed to launch an advertising and naming-rights campaign. The festival would be an Island wide event in the spring and Teitelbaum suggested it could raise as much for the trolley operation as the Cortez Fishing Festival raises annually for the FISH Preserve.

 

“We’re working with the chamber right now,” he said, adding that board members with the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce will meet July 8 to discuss the trolley.

 

“We have some very good ideas. Now we’re needing to put some meat on the bones,” he concluded.

Islanders last week seemed enthusiastic about Teitelbaum’s proposal, especially the festival. “We have Bayfest in the fall, but I really like the idea of a big blowout in the spring,” said Amanda Peats of Anna Maria, who was riding the trolley last Tuesday to Cafe on the Beach. “I think that’s a great way to raise the money.”

 

Trolley-rider Keith Hansen said, “I like the bootstrap approach. And, for sure, I like a big party to raise the money. Count me in.”