ST. PETE BEACH — The Beach Trolley trip that now allows tourists to travel the full extent of Pinellas County beaches from Clearwater Beach to Pass-a-Grille will get a bit shorter next month.
A route change planned by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority will stop the Beach Trolley at Gulf Boulevard and 75th Avenue in the Corey Avenue area.
Beach Trolley riders accustomed to traveling all the way to Pass-a-Grille will now have to transfer to another trolley bus.
The City Commission approved the route change last month, but some members are concerned that Beach Trolley riders will not make the transfer and will stop coming to Pass-a-Grille.
"These people might be discouraged by having to transfer. I prefer having the tourists going all the way down to Pass-a-Grille," said Commissioner Al Halpern.
"Certainly it is a trade-off," PSTA transportation director Denise Skinner said. She told the commission the route change is expected to increase ridership from St. Petersburg.
"This will provide seamless transportation from the Pier to Pass-a-Grille," Skinner said. "We think it is a benefit to more folks."
For St. Pete Beach residents, the route change will allow easier trolley travel to baseball games, events and venues in St. Petersburg.
Skinner said she hopes businesses in St. Pete Beach will help market the new service to ensure that Beach Trolley riders make the transfer and continue down the beach.
To get to Pass-a-Grille, Beach Trolley riders will have to transfer to the Route 35 trolley that originates at the St. Petersburg Pier and stops at 75th Avenue and Gulf Boulevard in the Corey Avenue area.
The transfer wait for Beach Trolley riders could be as much as 15 minutes, Skinner said.
Conversely, riders from St. Petersburg who want to get to Pass-a-Grille must now transfer to the Beach Trolley. The new route will enable them to continue to the southern end of the city without changing buses.
The new Route 35 will also have an increased frequency of service.
The cost of the new service will be offset by a three-year matching service development grant. Skinner said the PSTA board hopes that by the end of the grant period, ridership will have increased enough to pay for the additional service.
"What happens if we say no?" asked Commissioner Marvin Shavlan. "I am not happy about losing the north-south trolley."
Skinner said if the commission did not approve the new route, the city would be asked again in January, when its agreement with the PSTA will come up for renewal.
"This is even more service coming into your city, which is not a part of our transit system," she said.
St. Pete Beach residents do not pay PSTA taxes, as most of the rest of the county does. Instead, the city contracts for PSTA Beach Trolley service. But the city does not pay for the Route 35 service from St. Petersburg.
"This is an opportunity to increase access," said Commissioner Jim Parent, who favored the change.
Vice Mayor Bev Garnett, who represents Pass-a-Grille, called the change a "win-win" for both St. Pete Beach and St. Petersburg.
"We have beautiful beaches and St. Petersburg has a vibrant downtown. I like that kind of synergy," Garnett said.
The change in trolley service is scheduled to begin Oct. 2, City Manager Mike Bonfield said.