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Gulfport Connector Trolley to go out of service on Sept. 30

The Gulfport Connector Trolley is visually distinctive and has been used mostly by seniors, but is unsustainable. “It has such good intent and logic behind it,” Mayor Mike Yakes said.

PATTI EWALD | Special to the Times

The Gulfport Connector Trolley is visually distinctive and has been used mostly by seniors, but is unsustainable. “It has such good intent and logic behind it,” Mayor Mike Yakes said.

By the numbers

Figures show how ridership has changed in the past couple of years.

Date Riders
2011
Feb. 22-28 807
June 9-15 662
July 14-20 744
2010
Feb.16-22 667
June 8-14 647
July 6-12 702
Nov. 9-15 568
2009
Feb. 10-16 407
June 9-15 433
July 7-13 367
Nov. 10-16 554

Source: Random sampling from City Manager Jim O'Reilly's weekly report

GULFPORT — In a little more than a month, the flamingo-adorned turquoise Connector Trolley will no longer traverse the city's streets and take riders to St. Pete Beach and elsewhere.

The city's lease with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is up on Sept. 30, and it won't be renewed.

City Manager Jim O'Reilly said the city has exhausted its three-year grant of about $70,000 from the PSTA/Florida Department of Transportation. The city added $141,500 in annual funding from a special tax on the waterfront redevelopment district. There also were rider fares.

The city leased the trolley from the PSTA but provided the driver and maintained the vehicle, Mayor Mike Yakes said. At the end of the lease, the vehicle will be turned back over to the PSTA.

The original plan was for the PSTA to take over operation of the trolley after the grant expired, but it doesn't have the money to support the trolley route, which is used by about 600 riders a week, O'Reilly said.

There always has been a love-hate relationship of sorts between the city and the trolley, which runs hourly between 7:50 a.m. and 10:40 p.m. seven days a week.

Two years ago, in questionnaires that went out to 5,500 residents, the city asked for suggestions on how to balance the 2010 budget.

The most frequent recommendation? Eliminate the Gulfport Connector Trolley.

Even though it was frequently under fire, there's also a degree of sentimentality attached to the perk many hate to see go.

"It's a shame," Yakes said. "It has such good intent and logic behind it."

But he said he didn't fight to keep it in the budget.

"It's not economically sound. People aren't taking advantage of something that would save them money," said Yakes, who counts himself among that group.

"Money from the redevelopment fund would be better spent on other promotions, ones that would attract more commerce," he said.

Senior citizens, who were among the most frequent users of the trolley, have somewhere else to turn. The city offers transportation service through its GEMS — Gulfport Extended Mini-Bus Service — program. For an annual $50 registration fee and $1 per one-way trip, residents 55 and older can get rides to places such as grocery stores and doctor appointments.

The Senior Center will host a focus group at 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 7 at which current users of the minibus service will share their experiences and offer suggestions on how they could be better served. It is open to everyone.

Gulfport Connector Trolley to go out of service on Sept. 30 08/23/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 23, 2011 4:07pm]
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