All aboard the Anna Maria Island Trolley
JOE HENDRICKS | SUBMITTED
Welcome to the world of the Anna Maria Island trolley,
where life and the Island just keep rolling along.
ANNA MARIA ISLAND – In addition to its many natural treasures, Anna Maria Island is blessed with a man-made gem known as the Anna Maria Island Trolley.
Traveling primarily along Gulf and Marina drives, five trolleys travel a continuous route from the Anna Maria City Pier to Coquina Beach, making multiple stops en route.
The trolleys operate seven days a week, picking up passengers from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. and passing by a given stop approximately every 20 minutes.
The free service is the result of a partnership between the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce and Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT).
“The advertisers pay to be on the trolley. We pay the county to make sure it’s free,” said Chamber President Mary Ann Brockman. Contributions from riders also help.
“It benefits the Island by getting cars off the road, and it’s a huge advertising tool because we can tell people that you don’t need your car to get around the Island,” she said, noting that in addition to serving as an advertising tool, the “people mover” delivers customers to local businesses.
Headed north from Coquina Beach on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, a seasonal Bradenton resident named Mary was touring the Island with her friend Debbie, from Las Vegas.
“We had lunch at the Rod and Reel after Debbie attended an Ash Wednesday service at St. Bernard. We did a little shopping on Pine Avenue and stopped for a drink at the Moose,” she said.
“It’s a wonderful service for visitors,” Debbie added. “It’s nice because Mary can point things out better than if she was driving.”
Cincinnati natives Wayne and Pam Brown were touring the Island with hometown friends Herb and Debbie Rennekamp. “We’re going to the Sandbar for dinner,” Wayne said, explaining that he and Pam often explore the Island by foot, walking a few miles and then catching a trolley.
On Pine Avenue, Anna Maria snowbird Kathleen Eskew and her friend Carol Sage waited for a southbound trolley to take them to Holmes Beach to do some shopping.
“This is our second trip today,” Kathleen said. “The trolley is perfect because you don’t have to mess with the car.”
Aboard the trolley, Sarasota resident Anthony Dilorenzo said, “I ride the trolley to the Pier to hang out with friends, go fishing and get out of Sarasota for a while.”
He and his companions are among those who pay 75 cents to ride the Longboat Key Trolley from Coquina Beach back to Sarasota, passing through St. Armands Circle along the way.
Like many Island employees, Adam Mahanes relies on the trolley for his daily commute from Bradenton Beach to the Feeling Swell restaurant in Anna Maria.
“Anywhere on the Island, this is how I go – plus, you meet all kinds of people on the trolley,” he said, mentioning an elderly passenger known to play the harmonica and invoke passenger sing-alongs while occasionally dispensing spiritual advice.
Local author Lyn Clarke boarded the trolley still wearing his soccer uniform after a game in Holmes Beach. “To have a trolley every 20 minutes and to be able to get on it for free brilliant,” he said. “I have a car, but I rarely use it on the Island.”
Trolley driver Brian Medina said, “I love it. You meet people from everywhere, with different educational levels and mind sets.”
Medina said he makes approximately 12 trips around the Island per shift.
After sunset, Island Time owner Bill Herlihy said, “The trolley is perfect for our customers. They don’t have to drink and drive or deal with parking.”
Catching a northbound trolley near Bridge Street, Rich Kilar said, “You don’t have to worry about getting a DUI.”
With rain falling in the evening hours, southbound passengers stayed dry under a trolley stop near Lobstah’s restaurant in Holmes Beach.
Making his fifth trip of the day, Ed Belz said, “It’s an interesting ride. The people are pleasant, and you see some characters too.”
On Friday afternoon, Anna Maria resident Marge Higgins rode a northbound trolley with her great-grandson, Blake Copeman. “I picked him up from school and we’re having a little bus adventure,” she said.
Passing by Anna Maria Elementary, Blake said, “That my school,” with Marge explaining that Blake’s dad, Brian, is a Holmes Beach police officer who serves as the school’s resource officer.
On his way to visit his dad at Gagne Construction, 16-year-old Noah Wash said he hopes to have his own car one day, but for now, the trolley will do. “I don’t really need a car. I can ride the trolley and get wherever I want on the Island.”