Clearwater residents who have noticed the Jolley Trolley trundling around downtown minus any passengers might be glad to hear that in September, the trolley's trips to downtown will be terminated.
As part of the city's effort to meet state-mandated tax cuts, the Clearwater City Council decided to cut back its annual subsidy to the trolley service.
The trolley travels a route around Clearwater Beach, Sand Key, Island Estates and downtown. The part of the route that has the lowest ridership is the leg into downtown, so trolley officials have decided to end that part of the route as their way of coping with the reduction in city funds. However, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority will continue to operate its standard Route 80 bus between the beach and mainland.
It is likely difficult for those who have been intimately involved in creating and continuing the Jolley Trolley service - and have struggled to make it a going concern - to reduce service. Yet as anyone watching could see, there was not substantial use of the downtown portion of the route. It made sense to eliminate that portion.
It is no wonder the downtown leg has less use. Downtown Clearwater businesses are in a struggle to survive, following the opening of the new Memorial Causeway Bridge that turned Cleveland Street into a dead end, and a current streetscaping project that has left portions of Cleveland Street sealed off by construction from time to time.
Most of the 145,000 riders on the trolley last year were residents and visitors to the beach who traveled up and down the island or over to Island Estates, where there is a supermarket. Some visitors ride the colorful trolleys just for fun, enjoying the open air environment in good weather.
The Jolley Trolley was created in the mid-1990s as a way to reduce the number of cars clogging Clearwater Beach and Memorial Causeway. It operates as a private, nonprofit business, and it was envisioned as a service that eventually would be self-supporting. However, the trolley has depended on a subsidy of up to several hundred thousand dollars a year from the city.
With local governments in Pinellas County eliminating jobs, struggling to keep heavily used services in place and considering cuts in funding to nonprofits on which people depend for basic human needs, it was appropriate for Clearwater officials to trim the Jolley Trolley subsidy. As all local government officials are aware, even more budget cuts might be coming next year, so trolley officials need to consider how, or if, they can keep the trolley running on the beach if the subsidy gets trimmed more.
One day, perhaps, downtown Clearwater will be a thriving place, full of new residents, restaurants and retail shops, and tourists will be eager to visit downtown when the sun goes down on the beach. If that day comes, the Jolley Trolley can bring back its downtown route and give visitors the pleasure of a trolley ride down Cleveland Street.