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ST. PETE BEACH -- The "phenomenal" popularity of the brightly painted blue beach trolleys has led to a major expansion of service to St. Petersburg's BayWalk and the Pier as well as more frequent trolley stops along the beaches.
The changes, which begin today, will allow trolley riders to plan evening excursions between top recreation, entertainment and shopping attractions on the beaches and in St. Petersburg without rushing dinner, missing the end of a movie or searching for some other form of return transportation.
Connections to the Pier or BayWalk can be made by using trolley routes 3 and 35 that travel between St. Petersburg's downtown and Treasure Island or St. Pete Beach. Hourly trips are offered between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. seven days a week. Extended service is available until as late as midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
On the beach, "peak hour" (10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.) riders will be able to catch a trolley every 20 minutes, instead of the previous 30 minute schedule. Half-hour stops will remain in the early morning and later evening. A ride costs $1.25 for a standard fare.
"We're very pleased with the reception we've gotten for the Beach Trolley," said Janet Recca, director of marketing for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA). "By year's end we'll have more than 400,000 riders. This is really phenomenal."
Recca says tourists, residents and people working at beach hotels and restaurants use the Beach Trolley each day. Ridership is continuing to build, she says, even after August's fare increase.
"I ride the trolley four or five times a week. It sure saves on gas," says Tommy Massey, a Redington Shores resident. Massey uses the trolley to go to work, the bank and shopping.
Paul Figeuroa of Madeira Beach is a disabled veteran who can't drive and previously depended upon his wife for transportation. Now he rides the trolley every day.
Freddie Larossa just recently discovered the trolley. Friday, he boarded in Madeira Beach for a day "chilling out" on St. Pete Beach. "I love it. It's real simple and goes to every part of the beach you want," Larossa said.
Sharon DeVito, a Madeira Beach resident, and Donna Ehrlich, a St. Petersburg resident, are eager to use the extended weekend service between the beaches and St. Petersburg's downtown. "I will absolutely use it," says DeVito.
"We're all excited about the expansion. The trolley has been very successful," said Debbie Stambaugh, executive director of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce. "The trolley is not just transportation, it's part of our beach attractions."
Stambaugh said she hopes PSTA will soon offer extended evening hours on the beach during the week as well.
Madeira Beach has tried unsuccessfully to have southbound trolleys pull either into John's Pass Village or a parking lot on the west side of Gulf Boulevard. Northbound trolleys do drive into the Village, however.