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Tampa's Trolley Looks To Join The Night Life

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TAMPA - The downtown trolley, which stops running at 6 p.m. weeknights - much like the downtown often criticized as lifeless after closing time - may soon keep rolling way beyond sunset.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority is seeking permission from its board to keep the Monday- through-Friday Uptown- Downtown Connector on the streets until 10:30 p.m. beginning this fall.

Hotel and convention officials have told HARTline they favor the move, saying it will improve transportation for visitors trying to move around downtown and connect to the TECO Line Streetcar System.

Mayor Pam Iorio supports the later hours because it would help bring more people to the downtown areas the city wants to revitalize.

``It's a reliable, low-cost way of providing mass transportation in the downtown core that is really needed,'' she said.

The HARTline board will accept public comment Monday morning on the proposed change to the trolley service and more than a dozen bus routes. No decision on the plans are expected until the board's August meeting. The changes would go into effect this fall.

If completely enacted, the plans would free up more than $1.2 million to reinvest in service improvements, HARTline spokeswoman Jill Cappadoro said.

The later service downtown is expected to cost HARTline about the same to operate but will come at a price to riders, who have been getting free rides.

HARTline plans to begin charging 50 cents per trip. Frequent riders would also have the option of purchasing a monthly trolley pass at a deeply reduced rate of $5.

Trolley riders expressed mixed reactions to the proposal.

Ken Thomas works as a stagehand at venues such as the Tampa Convention Center and the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center at gigs that often stretch into the night. He likes the idea of later hours and said 50 cents is an acceptable price.

``Sounds fair to me,'' he said. ``Beats a cab.''

Others also didn't mind the fare but were skeptical about later service helping create a more vibrant downtown.

``Downtown's dead,'' George Wilson said Thursday as the trolley circled Harbour Island. ``What's there to do downtown?''

``With visitors, it might work,'' Oksana Pastor said. ``But for the regular 8-to-5 work force, they may leave at 5.''

The downtown circulator service began in 1999. It costs about about $685,000 a year to run, including contributions from the city and county governments.

The bright yellow cars circle downtown for 12 hours a day, five days a week, with stops near most downtown hotels, the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, the Tampa Convention Center and the Marion Transit Center.

A trolley comes every 10 minutes.

That, too, would change under the proposal.

Ten-minute frequency would continue from 6 to 9 a.m. and resume from 4 to 6 p.m. The rest of the time, riders can expect a 15-minute wait.

``We're not spending any additional money on this route,'' said Ed Crawford, a HARTline spokesman. ``We're trading off some of that midday service in exchange for seeing if there is a market for evening hours.''

Michael Kilgore, vice president of marketing at the performing arts center, said patrons would probably be well- served by the extended hours Tuesday through Thursday, when curtains rise at 7:30 p.m. Friday's 8 p.m. show starts would probably push standing ovations past 10:30, meaning riders could only benefit from preshow excursions.

Kilgore, a frequent rider who often has meetings downtown, said he likes the longer hours and doesn't mind paying for what has been a free service since its inception in 1999.

Five dollars for a month's worth of service?

``It seems reasonable to me,'' he said. ``I would pay that taking my car and going to a lunch and meeting, and parking it once.''

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I can't figure out of their talking about the trolley, the uptown connector or both. Either way they need to run that trolley to uptown (arts district) already. I stayed a weekend near the Performing Arts Center a while ago and that area of downtown is dead on weekends. With no connector, that's quite a trek to get to the trolley.

I'm glad their considering expanding service. Good news for Downtown Tampa.

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