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  1. Transportation

St. Pete's Downtown Looper expands service with $900,000 grant

ST. PETERSBURG ­— The Downtown Looper will expand its route and its hours starting in October 2018 thanks to a $900,000 grant from the Florida Department of Transportation.

The grant, distributed over three years, will allow for a longer route, more service hours and the addition of two electric vehicles to the trolley fleet.

"I think it's amazing," said the Looper's director of transportation, Eric Carlson. "It's important as downtown has changed over the years for the Looper to do its best not only serve our visitors, which we've done all these years, but a greater market with our burgeoning residential population."

The Looper, which is run by the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and the city, currently loops through several attractions downtown, including museums and restaurants. It runs Monday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and until midnight on Friday and Saturdays. The fare is 50 cents, and it served about 110,000 passengers last year.

The expanded route has not yet been finalized, but the plan is to reach the Innovation Distric, which runs from the University of South Florida and marine science cluster near Bayboro Harbor to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg and Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital. There will also be more stops in more areas where people live and work.

Expanded trolley service will start at 7 a.m. and run to 10 p.m. on Monday through Thursdays and Sunday. It will run from 7 a.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.

The fleet will also be equipped to allow users of the PSTA app to track the Looper in real time.

The expanded trolley reflects the growth and popularity of downtown, said Cassandra Borchers, PSTA chief development officer.

"There's this realization that downtown 20 years ago is not what it is today," she said, "and that's good."

The grant will allow the Looper to go from running two trolleys a day to three. The frequency of stops will remain every 15 minutes.

The expanded service will cost $600,000 a year. The state grant will pay $300,000, or half that, for three years. The other $300,000 a year will be paid for by the city and PSTA.

Contact Divya Kumar at dkumar@tampabay.com. Follow @divyadivyadivya.

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