Beach trolley service to continue unchanged; Lee County Commission OKs plan
The number of trolleys taking people from Summerlin Square Shopping Center to Fort Myers Beach during season will be at the same levels as last year, Lee County Commissioners decided at Thursday’s final budget public hearing.
The county’s 2008 to 2009 budget is $2.3 billion. Prior to the hearing, the budget called for a reduction from four trolleys to one for the park-and-ride program.
Beach Town Councilman Bob Raymond appeared at the hearing to urge commissioners to fund the program. Raymond apologized to commissioners for waiting until the last public hearing to speak out on the issue.
“The e-mail telling us that LeeTran was cutting the majority of our trolley service must have been lost in cyberspace. None of us heard anything about it until we read it in the paper,” Raymond said, referring to an article in the Wednesday issue of the Fort Myers Beach Observer.
Raymond told commissioners if they continue to advertise for people to visit the beach, they should take responsibility for providing public transportation for them.
“The Summerlin Square park-and-ride has been proven to take 50,000 cars off the beach,” he said. “We are, with Estero Boulevard as you well know, at a complete standstill for three months a year. Without this, I can’t imagine what would possibly happen.”
Raymond quoted LeeTran Director Steve Meyers to commissioners from the Observer article where Meyers said, “At certain times, you can put as many trolleys on and they would still be full. It is certainly not a demand issue.”
“I have a problem with that because it basically works against what you’re trying to do and what we are trying to do,” Raymond said. “I would ask you to seriously consider to at least going back to last year’s and if possible even augmenting.”
Former Beach Mayor Bill Van Duzer, who is now chairman of the Beach Chamber of Commerce Board, also urged commissioners to fund the program.
“Please commissioners, consider the following before making any cuts in the system,” Van Duzer said. “And better yet, expand it to serve the needs of the entire Lee County community.”
Van Duzer said that for years the county has expanded the roadway system to make room for more vehicles, including Summerlin Road and San Carlos Boulevard.
“San Carlos Boulevard was expanded from a simple two-lane road to four lanes, including a center turn lane,” he said. “I recall at that time talking to a commissioner, who will remain nameless, said San Carlos Boulevard was designed and built to be the stacking lane.”
Van Duzer said he was told the San Carlos expansion was done to reduce traffic congestion on Summerlin Road.
Since its inception, the park-and-ride program has been a huge success for visitors and residents, Van Duzer said.
“It took them out of their vehicles and it took those vehicles off the roads,” he said. “Both the trolleys and the park-and-ride systems are real winners. They have been used well and have reported large numbers, really large numbers, in ridership. These systems should not be cut, and as a matter of fact, they should be expanded because they serve the need and do it very well.”
Beach merchant and chamber member Chris Christensen also spoke in support of the program.
“We depend heavily on the beach park-and-ride trolleys, both for our employees and many of our customers,” he said. “One of our employees uses the park-and-ride trolleys for medical reasons and the other for convenience. … If the service were reduced in season, we could potentially lose our employees.”
Lee County Commission Chairman Ray Judah said he would support fully funding the program.
“I would hope this board will seriously consider retaining the funding in the budget,” Judah said.
Lee County Commissioner Tammy Hall said she would support fully funding the county transportation system and continue to until a solution to fix the system is found.
“I have yet to get a comprehensive understanding on how to make this system efficient,” she said. “The only way I can get my point across to you is to fully fund it every year until you get serious about changing the transit system — it’s broken. … At the end of the day it’s going to be up to this county commission to go out to the taxpayers and find out how they want to support transit.”
Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann said he could not support taking money out of reserves to fund transit.
“That is deficit spending because we’re using reserves for operational dollars that recur and will be here next year,” Mann said.
The funding was approved 4-1 with Mann dissenting.