Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Transportation

Jolley Trolley wants higher subsidy; Clearwater city manager balks

CLEARWATER — The Jolley Trolley's new chief says her business needs more cash to extend health care and other benefits to employees of the subsidized open-air red buses that trundle passengers to Clearwater Beach, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and north to Tarpon Springs.

But so far, Clearwater's city manager has balked, citing the previous executive director's promise not to ask for a raise in the city subsidy for two years.

The request would amount to an increase of only $9,420 next year, and could be absorbed by the city's parking fund, but there's a principle at stake, wrote City Manager Bill Horne in an email to city officials.

"The bigger issue is how can the (Jolley Trolley) control its costs so that we are not obligated to fund budget increases annually with no end in sight. Our Parking Fund does not exist to fund the (Jolley Trolley)," Horne wrote.

The trolley's board named Rosemary Longenecker executive director in June after her husband, Bob, was asked to step down. She said the bulk of the requested increase is to give about 40 trolley employees a health plan, sick days and paid vacation.

Many of her employees are school bus drivers who moonlight for the Jolley Trolley.

"We don't feel like it's much of an increase at all," Longenecker said.

The city provides a subsidy of about $164,000 for the trolley's beach route. The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority matches that and provides money for other routes as well. The Downtown Development Board, an independent taxing authority in Clearwater, gives $9,000 to subsidize the coastal route to Tarpon Springs.

Trolley board chairman Bob Clifford said the company — which last year said it raised about 44 percent of its budget from fares and advertising — is "a hell of a lot more self-sufficient" than most public transit agencies.

Ridership is up and the company is working on a new route through Dunedin, Countryside Mall and Safety Harbor, Clifford said.

"Hopefully, they'll be able to honor our request," Clifford said.

Under the trolley's proposal, the city's $9,420 increase would be broken down this way: $5,870 for the beach route and $3,550 to partially reimburse the Downtown Development Board for the coastal route.

The board will meet today to hear the trolley chief's proposal. The development board has $182,000 in funding requests and about $68,000 to distribute, said Geri Lopez, the city's director of economic development and housing.

Reimbursing the board for additional money for the trolley doesn't sit well with Horne either.

"The other concern we have is the practice of covering DDB funding obligations. That is a practice that I don't encourage us to do," Horne wrote last week to City Council member Bill Jonson, who is an ex-officio member of the Downtown Development Board.

Brad Miller, chief executive officer of the PSTA, supports the trolley's position but isn't wedded to the proposal.

"We're in budget negotiation time right now. It's still up for grabs," he said.

Bob Longenecker said he had given the city a written promise that the Jolley Trolley wouldn't ask for a higher subsidy for the next two years in exchange for the use of city property on N Myrtle Avenue.

He left the business, which he and his wife had saved from severe financial difficulties several years ago, after the board asked him to step down. His departure was at least partially over marital difficulties with his wife. They are now separated, he said.

Rosemary Longenecker declined to comment, saying "that's pretty personal."

She said she would meet with Horne on Friday to discuss the requested increase. She said she didn't want to speculate about what she would do if she didn't get the money.

Jonson said he was waiting for the city staff to sort through the confusion about the promise to keep subsidies steady.

"I don't know if the change in personnel ... if there has been some disconnect in how things were done," he said.

Times news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Charlie Frago can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4159. You can follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago.

Comments
New bus routes, times to start on Sunday in Hillsborough

New bus routes, times to start on Sunday in Hillsborough

TAMPA — More than a dozen bus routes in Hillsborough County will have new times, paths and stops starting Sunday.The changes come almost four months after the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority rolled out an entirely new bus network, scrapp...
Published: 02/19/18
After Irma evacuation gridlock, new energy for Interstate 75 options

After Irma evacuation gridlock, new energy for Interstate 75 options

OCALA — In mid-2016, a regional task force that spent almost two years exploring ways to improve safety on a crowded Interstate 75 decided to take a conservative approach: make changes to the highway rather than build or expand other roads. Then Hurr...
Published: 02/18/18
Engineers push back against criticism of bus rapid transit plan

Engineers push back against criticism of bus rapid transit plan

ST. PETERSBURG — Proponents of a bus rapid transit system that would connect St. Petersburg, Tampa and Wesley Chapel pushed back Friday against recent criticism of the proposed plan.The lead engineer told a group of regional leaders that they wanted ...
Published: 02/12/18
Red-light camera challenge gets rough ride at state Supreme Court

Red-light camera challenge gets rough ride at state Supreme Court

TALLAHASSEE — Motorists hoping that the courts will pull the plug on red-light cameras may have hit a roadblock: the Florida Supreme Court.On Wednesday, the court heard arguments in a case that could decide the legality of red-light camera programs a...
Published: 02/07/18
Hillsborough leaders raise questions about bus rapid transit

Hillsborough leaders raise questions about bus rapid transit

TAMPA — Leaders in Hillsborough politics and transportation are speaking up this week about their concerns with Tampa Bay’s latest proposal to bring transit to the region. Bus rapid transit, known as BRT, emerged last month as the lead o...
Published: 02/06/18
Updated: 02/07/18
Shut down Bayshore Boulevard on Sundays? Tampa City Council is skeptical

Shut down Bayshore Boulevard on Sundays? Tampa City Council is skeptical

TAMPA — Shut down Tampa’s iconic Bayshore Boulevard on Sundays? Allow a Gasparilla every weekend, but without the drunken crowds and gaudy pirates? A group of supporters of the "Open Streets" concept pitched the idea Thursday to the Tampa City Counci...
Updated one month ago

She tried to board a flight with her ‘emotional support peacock.’ The airline said no.

Airlines are cracking down on the use of "emotional support animals" — and their case could be strengthened by a woman who tried to bring a peacock onboard a United Airlines flight.First reported by The Jet Set, a travel-focused show, a woman at Newa...
Updated one month ago
Florida among the states with the lowest number of structurally deficient bridges

Florida among the states with the lowest number of structurally deficient bridges

Florida is home to 265 "structurally deficient" bridges, according to a new report from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, or ARTBA.The report examined federal data and found that there are 54,259 bridges rated "structurally def...
Updated one month ago
Bus rapid transit service must be fast, frequent, experts say

Bus rapid transit service must be fast, frequent, experts say

For years, the Tampa Bay region has been stuck in a prolonged transit fight: bus vs. rail.The form of transit is beside the point, said Art Guzzetti, vice president of the American Public Transportation Association."That’s not the problem," he said. ...
Updated one month ago
How to navigate downtown Tampa for Saturday’s Gasparilla invasion, NHL festivities

How to navigate downtown Tampa for Saturday’s Gasparilla invasion, NHL festivities

TAMPA — They may be the new kids in town when it comes to Gasparilla, but National Hockey League officials figured out the best advice for anyone coming to the all-star weekend events they have planned just around the corner from the pirate parade.Ge...
Updated one month ago