DUNEDIN — The Jolley Trolley rolled one stop closer to the mainland Thursday when the City Commission unanimously voted to pledge up to $43,000 to expand its route off Clearwater Beach.
The money will help pay to bring the trolley, a fleet of nine open-air shuttles that loop the beach strip from Sand Key to the Palm Pavilion, through the downtowns of Clearwater and Dunedin and the Sponge Docks of Tarpon Springs.
Officials say the mainland route could help shepherd tourists farther inland to shop and spend and provide locals a way to skip parking, save on gas and drink without driving.
If further negotiations go to plan, officials said, the trolley could embark on its new weekend route in time for Thanksgiving. Fares will match the county buses: $2 a ride, $4.50 a day.
"It's a one-year trial. Everyone will be watching the data, and there will be tweaks along the way," said Julie Ward Bujalski, a Dunedin commissioner and board member for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, or PSTA. "From what I hear, people feel this is a shot worth taking."
The city's contribution, paid for with city and redevelopment reserves, will be added alongside a $16,000 pledge from the Clearwater Downtown Development Board and a $15,000 pledge by local business leaders' Visit Dunedin group, City Manager Rob DiSpirito said.
The largest pledge to date has been from the PSTA, which on Wednesday approved a $103,420 pledge toward what county commissioners celebrated as "a fabulous service."
The partnership could continue to grow even further. Tarpon Springs will discuss matching Dunedin's $43,000 pledge at a workshop Tuesday, and County Commission Chairwoman Karen Seel suggested unincorporated Palm Harbor could, with a new county pledge, possibly see a stop on the route.
The service as proposed would run from 10 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays and from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays. Officials estimate the open-air shuttles could usher in 15,000 new visitors to downtown Dunedin a year.
Bujalski said she's excited to join them on the trolley's first Dunedin loop.
"I wouldn't miss it for the world," she said.
Contact Drew Harwell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4170.