CLEARWATER — Responding to a complaint, the Jolley Trolley is upgrading to make its vehicles more accessible to elderly and disabled riders.
The trolley company has ordered foldup seats that provide storage space for walkers and folding grocery carts. The seats are being shipped from California and should be installed within a couple of weeks.
The Jolley Trolley is also testing which of two public address systems will better amplify sound throughout the open-air cars.
"We're attempting to accommodate what I thought was a pretty logical request," said trolley executive director Bob Longenecker. "It's a simple thing, but it's going to be nice."
That request came from Jo-An Totty of Palm Harbor, who complained to the Dunedin City Commission about the trolley's new mainland loop.
Totty said she watched an elderly passenger burst into tears as she looked up and realized she was lost in an unfamiliar city where she didn't speak the language.
The Greek woman had been traveling from Tarpon Springs to Dunedin, Totty said. But the woman ended up in Clearwater because she couldn't hear her stop announced from the back of the bus.
Totty, 78, also complained that there wasn't enough room to store her walker without blocking the aisle.
Longenecker said each trolley already has two wheelchair positions which, if empty, can be used to store walkers and other items.
But he said officials agreed that the first row of each trolley should be labeled "priority seating" and feature a folding seat. Passengers will be able to take seats in the second row.
Equipment and labor for each seat costs roughly $650 per trolley. Loudspeakers will cost about $600 each.
The seats and public address systems will be installed in all 10 cars that make up the trolley system's beach and coastal routes, Longenecker said.
Longenecker warned, however, that sound quality on the vehicles will never be perfect, especially when the windows are open and the trolleys are full of people — as was the case when Totty boarded.
"Nine times out of 10, you get seven to 10 people on there and the driver knows where they're going. That's just the relationship our drivers have with customers," Longenecker said.
"But sometimes 20 people board at one time and it's hard to hear," he said. "The speakers won't be able to blast that far if you're traveling over Alternate 19 at 40 miles per hour with the windows open."
Late last year, Longenecker said, officials spent $45,000 installing wheelchair lifts on the three trolleys that began looping Clearwater, Dunedin, Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs in November. All of the beachside trolleys already had the lifts.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4153.