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  1. St. Petersburg

Trams and electric vehicles to help visitors navigate the new Pier

ST. PETERSBURG — The new Pier District is being planned as a walkable, entertaining destination, but for those who can't, or prefer not to navigate the 26 acres on foot, the city is investing close to $800,000 on a way to move people around.

Provision is even being made to accommodate more formal groups, such as wedding parties, that will make their way to the Pier-head restaurant or other areas.

Unlike the previous Pier, visitors will not be allowed to drive on the approach. Thursday, the City Council approved $735,280 for passenger trams. Another $59,580 is being used to buy two electric vehicles.

Evan Mory, the city's director of transportation and parking management, said money for the trams and electric vehicles is coming from funds that had been set aside to replace the red trolleys that served the demolished inverted pyramid pier. Funds also will come from parking revenues, he said.

City officials are preparing for hoped-for crowds.

"The new Pier is going to be much different than the old Pier, because we are providing activities and amenities throughout the whole district compared to the old Pier, which was about getting out to the end. It's really no longer just what's happening at the end," Mory said.

"The fact of people not being able to drive to the end of the Pier is another reason why we wanted to provide a more robust tram system. The trolleys before only held 20 passengers each."

The city will buy three 12-passenger, gasoline-powered trams, each pulling a 35-passenger trailer. The trams, which will be ADA accessible, are designed to be able to carry an additional 35-passenger trailer, if needed.

Mory said the trams will be similar to those at Busch Gardens. On Thursday, he told the council that they actually are the same type used in Lee County to take visitors to the beach.

Mory said the trams cost about the same as a hybrid electric transit vehicle, which is priced at about $700,000 and carries fewer passengers.

The vehicles will make three stops along the Pier. One will be at the former Pelican parking lot, where the Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille is being built. Another will be at the Pier head, and a third close to Bay Shore Drive NE, "near where people are getting on and off the Looper and Central Avenue Trolley," Mory said.

"When the Pier is open, we're going to provide service frequently, about every five to seven minutes," he said. "When it's really off-hours, it will be about seven to 10 minutes."

The two electric powered vehicles, which will carry 11 passengers each, will be used during slow times, Mory said. "Probably in the morning, we would use them for moving employees around," he said.

The electric vehicles, which will also be used to augment tram service during busy periods, will be available for weddings and special events, he said, adding that there are plans to buy special curtains for inclement weather.

The city had hoped to make more use of electric vehicles, he said, "but none of them provided enough power for continuous operation."

The new vehicles are expected to arrive in August, closer to the expected fall opening of the Pier District.

With no parking allowed along the over-water section of the Pier, the new destination will have 525 parking spaces, or about 150 fewer than the old one.

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

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