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Win or lose, Lightning fans toot praise on streetcar service

Published May 27, 2004

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TAMPA - With two hours and 10 minutes to game time, Connie Cosme took a break from the levers.

A few regulars had already jumped off her streetcar Tuesday at the St. Pete Times Forum. But she expected the worst ahead.

Win or lose, the throngs emerging from the Tampa Bay Lightning game hours later were bound to swarm the 18-month-old streetcar service.

"On Saturday, we had a nice, happy load," she said about the night the Lightning won the Eastern Conference.

"I let two guys come up and toot the whistle," she said, sitting down on one of the honey-brown wooden seats. "They all went nuts. Everyone went crazy."

Hundreds of people have been taking advantage of the streetcars run by HARTline to find cheaper parking in Ybor City and escape the snarl of traffic around the St. Pete Times Forum.

The streetcars offered an extra hour of service after Tuesday's game and will do so again tonight. On Tuesday, ridership jumped to 910, up 300 from an average Tuesday, officials said.

Cosme, sporting a black top hat, black vest and short sleeves, stepped outside to switch the direction of the electric cable above the train, yellow and bright as a sunburst. The seats inside its air-conditioned bubble swiveled to face east instead of west.

First stop, the Marriott. Some people wanted to move away from the action.

"We thought the only people that would be here would be disaster managers," said Bob Swan of Orlando, who was in town to attend the Governor's Hurricane Conference at the Tampa Convention Center on behalf of an engineering firm.

Swan and colleague Teresa Carter of Raleigh, N.C., hitched a ride on the streetcar to catch dinner in Ybor City and return to the Marriott before the game let out.

Cosme turned the car around in Ybor City and picked up more Lightning fans.

"I didn't want to have to deal with the parking," said Donna Ippolito, who lives at Camden Apartments in Ybor City. "The last time I valet parked, they wrecked my car."

Cosme dropped them off and picked up some rowdy hurricane conference attendees heading back toward Ybor, one of whom insisted repeatedly on blowing the train's whistle.

Cosme and her colleagues have seen it all: bachelorette parties, Gasparilla partiers, drunks lying across the tracks. The streetcars have even been chartered by wedding parties.

The mood after a hockey game can vary. Several hours later, Cosme started taking trickles of fans away from the St. Pete Times Forum back to their cars. It was only the third period, but Tampa Bay was already losing badly.

"Be advised, the game is letting out now," the streetcar dispatch radio squawked.

As Cosme rounded the bend at the Florida Aquarium, the crowds appeared.

"They are not going to be happy," Cosme said. Cars pulled on the tracks and sat still. Cosme honked the whistle until they moved.

Near the Times Forum, Cosme stopped as her whole car filled up with subdued fans. Many were happy to attend a Stanley Cup game, though disappointed at the outcome. Still, they liked the streetcar.

"It's really relaxing, and you don't have to fight the mess that you get out there," said Scott Maxwell of Plant City, riding with his three friends.

Mike and Michelle Concannon of Dover sat quietly up front. While not giving up hope on the Lightning, they were happy to put the night behind them.

And Cosme was happy to oblige.

The streetcar, like the hockey games, would keep on rolling.

[Last modified May 27, 2004, 07:18:42]

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