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Panel says to keep shuttles rolling

The subcommittee recommends approving a $19,000 request to keep the system going through the rest of the 1999 Devil Rays season.

If Tuesday's vote was an indicator, the baseball shuttle should survive the current Devil Rays season.

After expressing concerns about the shuttle system, members of a City Council subcommittee unanimously agreed to recommend that the full council approve a request for $19,000 to keep the system rolling through the end of the 1999 baseball season.

Tuesday's discussion followed a presentation on the issue before the council last week. Council members said then that they wanted more information before considering the request further.

The council will review the recommendation on Aug. 24.

Two themes emerged Tuesday: Council members think the shuttle system ought to pay for itself and the ways the system is currently used and financed is confusing.

Even so, council member Larry Williams overcame those twin hurdles when he heard the answer to his question about whether the shuttles were having measurable effects on the downtown economy.

City marketing director Anita Treiser said The Pier management told her that about 80 percent of the more than 3,700 riders who have used the shuttles serving The Pier parking areas also have visited businesses at The Pier before or after games.

"To me, that tells me what I want to know," Williams said of the game-day shuttles. "It's clearly worthwhile."

As for the confusion, Treiser said, it comes from the fact that the pink "trolley" buses that serve as baseball parking shuttles also serve two other roles downtown. Businesses contract for them to provide remote-site parking links for employees. They also serve as the "Looper" trolleys linking hotels and museums in a route that circles through the downtown.

Each use _ baseball shuttle, business parking connector and Looper _ generates its own income and expense streams. Sometimes city contributions to the system are used within all three roles the buses serve, sometimes not. The distinctions are sometimes confusing.

Whether the baseball shuttle should cover its own costs, Treiser said that the $1 charged to shuttle riders for each round trip to and from the stadium covers about 30 percent of the system's costs. Charging $2 would almost certainly cut ridership because two fans arriving in one car would pay to park their car, then pay $4 just to ride the shuttle. The shuttle cost alone would be about what it costs to park in a lot not far from Tropicana Field.

If that happens, two city goals would be defeated. The city has tried to disperse parking around the downtown to smooth out the traffic and to bring baseball fans into the downtown before and after games, Treiser said.