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Trolleys may link downtown with beaches

The trolleys _ or adapted buses _ would offer more frequent pickups and longer hours, from 5:45 a.m. to 9 p.m.

If the cities of Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach agree, a trolley service operated by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority could link St. Petersburg and the beach cities by the end of the year.

PSTA officials say the proposed routes would offer major advantages to bus riders: coordinated and more regular public transportation from the mainland to the gulf beaches. PSTA executive director Roger Sweeney said information outlining the new routes will be available in about two weeks.

In St. Petersburg, the PSTA proposes to operate trolleys along Central Avenue in place of the buses now used for Routes 3 and 35.

In addition, Sweeney said, "The service on the beach will be a significant improvement. We already have some routes out on the beach. Those routes are going to be affected by the beach trolley, not only by the routes, but also by the scheduling of the beach trolley. . . . Some routes that go from the mainland to the beach will be changed so that they intersect or connect with the beach trolley."

He said the PSTA has been working for more than a year to implement new service on the gulf beaches but that one segment of its plan is firm.

On Dec. 31, Sweeney said, the PSTA will begin trolley service from John's Pass to the Sheraton Sand Key Resort on Clearwater Beach.

"In addition, we have been having a lot of discussions with Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach to extend that beach trolley south from John's Pass all the way down to Pass-a-Grille. Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach need to approve that," he said.

Both cities are expected to make their decisions this month.

Routes 3 and 35 in St. Petersburg, which originate at Williams Park, would take passengers to the two barrier islands. Route 35, which goes to South Pasadena via Central Avenue, would be extended over Corey Causeway to St. Pete Beach. Route 3, which runs along Central Avenue to Park Street and 22nd Avenue N to Tyrone Mall, would be changed to go along Central Avenue directly to Treasure Island. The portion dropped by Route 3 would be picked up by Route 5.

Regular fares would remain $1, but the two routes, which currently offer bus service once every hour, would be coordinated to offer service along Central Avenue every half hour. The PSTA also plans to extend the hours for both routes, with service beginning at 5:45 a.m. and ending at 9 p.m.

"We added an early morning trip especially for workers and we added a late night trip for people coming off the beach," Sweeney said, adding that the last trolley would leave the beach around 8:30 and arrive at Williams Park about 9 p.m.

Potential riders, expected to include beach hotel workers and tourists, need not worry that the new trolleys will crawl to their destinations. The vehicles will simply be buses adapted to look like trolleys. They will be air-conditioned and travel at the same speed as regular buses.

Why trolleys?

"It's something where people thought it would be a marketing tool to attract the people and get them out of their cars and onto public transportation," Sweeney said.

"Other areas in the state have already tried this with great success," he added, giving as examples Sarasota, Fort Myers, Pensacola and Daytona Beach.

If St. Pete Beach and Treasure Island approve their segments of the trolley service, the entire system could be operating by year's end.

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