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PSTA wants trolleys to help ease beach, tourist traffic

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

The route from John's Pass to Sand Key would connect attractions, bars, restaurants and hotels.

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority thinks it has a way to get people moving on the beaches.

They are called beach trolleys. Starting Dec. 31, five of them will carry residents and tourists from John's Pass to the Sheraton Sand Key Resort in Clearwater Beach.

Residents and tourists may board a trolley every 30 minutes every day from 5:45 a.m. to 10 p.m. and ride along Gulf Boulevard to a hotel, restaurant or beach of their choice.

The PSTA recently announced plans to link St. Petersburg and beach cities by the end of the year. They also hope to expand the beach trolley routes to St. Pete Beach.

The reason for the new beach trolley service is twofold: Employees who work on the beaches will have an another way to get to work, and tourists will have a more convenient way to get around. If enough people hop on board, it would alleviate logjams and parking nightmares.

"When you stop to think about it, it's a no-brainer," said Roger Sweeney, executive director of PSTA.

The PSTA has been giving trolleys a lot of thought for at least a year. Sweeney estimated that next year, 150,000 people will use the trolleys, which seat 35 passengers at a cost of about $312,700. Much of the cost will be offset by fares, which will run $1 per person, and a $137,000 state grant.

The PSTA also thinks the look of the trolleys _ essentially buses built to resemble cable cars without the cables _ will entice riders, especially tourists.

"The Super Bowl is coming up in January and we want to be ready for that," Sweeney said.

Businesses and beach communities welcome the trolley idea.

"We always have people who are asking how can I get to the restaurants, attractions or beaches without a car," said Jack Guy, director of sales and marketing at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort. "The trolley makes it a little more exciting and fun."

Tom Brobeil, city manager for Indian Rocks Beach, said the trolley will make tourist visits much more practical, but he is concerned about the service ending at 10 p.m. That's way too early for people who have a late dinner or want to visit a bar, he said.

The PSTA will hold two public hearing to discuss its trolley service: at 10 a.m. Sept. 19 at Indian Rocks Beach City Hall, 1507 Bay Palm Blvd.; and 1:30 p.m. Sept. 20 at the South Pasadena City Hall, 7047 Sunset Drive S. For information, call 530-9911.