ST. PETERSBURG – Following more than two hours of discussion where more than two dozen Pinellas County residents voiced their support, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority board of directors went against its own staff recommendation when it unanimously voted to extend its contract with the Jolley Trolley to provide transportation services in Clearwater and Dunedin.
The Jolley Trolley, a Clearwater-based nonprofit, was at risk of losing its contract with the PSTA – which accounts for approximately 75 percent of its business – when the transit organization’s staff recommended a Cincinnati-based firm, First Transit, following a proposal process that saw both organizations neck and neck with one another, with First Transit eking out a small numerical lead.
That lead was based in part due to the Jolley Trolley’s failure to list a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise partner, an error that almost cost the nonprofit the contract.
Clearwater attorney Brian Aungst Jr. was just one of many trolley supporters who spoke during the PSTA’s meeting Feb. 22.
“I’m here to correct a simple misunderstanding and to correct the record,” Aungst said. “The existence of the Jolley Trolley is at stake today with this action, and it’s all based on a simple misunderstanding.”
Aungst clarified to the board that the Jolley Trolley does in fact have a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise partner in the vendor that sells the organization its fleet.
Clearwater Jolley Trolley Executive Director Rosemary Windsor reiterated the nonprofit’s dedication to serving Pinellas County.
“We have been able to offer to PSTA a great service at a great price and the reason we’ve been able to do that is because of the business model that we use,” Windsor said. “The Jolley Trolley has been receptive to the needs and requests from PSTA over the years. We don’t see us ever changing. We see us staying the same, we count you as a wonderful partner for us. We think it makes total sense for us to continue the business.
“And bottom line, we are committed to doing what’s necessary to making this contract work, for you, for us and for the citizens,” she continued.
Trolley employees, residents and business leaders showed up in droves to show their support for the nonprofit, which employees 47 in Pinellas County.
“There’s something to be said for history, familiarity and the passion that’s involved in creating a brand,” said Clearwater resident and business owner Lisa Chandler. “But more importantly is the value we place on keeping things local. The one thing I want to express is the fact that Jolley Trolley has only one destination and one focus – and that’s Pinellas County.”
Dunedin mayor Julie Ward Bujalski also voiced her support of the trolley.
“You see numbers, statistics, and facts all day long, but as a policy maker myself, we know the data doesn’t always tell the story,” Bujalski said, adding that when Dunedin city leaders approached the trolley eight years ago about expansion, there was no hesitation.
“They saw the potential, just like I did,” Bujalski said. “So what did they create? A system that has brought thousands of visitors and residents into communities with no direct, convenient transportation available before. And how did they do that? They burdened all the risk so the taxpayers didn’t have to.
“They saw the potential, they believed in it and they made it happen,” she continued.
Ultimately, Jolley Trolley’s local community experience proved to be a sharp enough edge to beat out the competition.
The PSTA’s decision comes as Spring Break begins in Tampa Bay and on the heels of Clearwater’s decision to approve funding for a park and ride program that will extend the Jolley Trolley’s services until April 30.
The plan calls for an extension of services already in place. The trolley will pick up beachgoers at three locations in downtown Clearwater – The Garden Street parking lot, the Harborview Center and the city hall parking lot.
The seven-day-a-week plan will allow travelers to take the trolley to the beach free of charge, but they would have to arrange to pay for a ride back on the trolley, ferry or a ride share company.
Logan Mosby is editor of the Clearwater Beacon. She can be reached at lmosby@TBNweekly.com or by calling 727-397-5563, ext. 304.