CLEARWATER - The recent spike in fuel costs has put a dent in the pocketbooks of consumers, businesses and government alike. Transportation companies, who count fuel as one of their major expenses, have been hit harder than most, the Jolley Trolley, Clearwater's tourist-friendly transportation service between downtown and the beach, being one.
Bill Kirbas, President of The Jolley Trolley, said, "We're getting eaten alive by fuel costs. Our revenues are not sufficient to offset the increase in fuel." Kirbas projects fuel costs to increase to $108-thousand in fiscal year 2006/07, up from an estimated $100-thousand this fiscal year and $77-thousand in 2004/05.
To help cover its increased fuel expenses, the Jolley Trolley has decided to raise fares. Effective May 1, riders will be charged $1.25, up from $1.00, and senior citizens will pay 60-cents, up from 50-cents.
The Jolly Trolley has been frugal in containing costs that are under its control. There have been no employee raises since 2003/04, and there has been a cutback on overtime. "The few things we can do in the way of controlling expenses, we've done," said Kirbas.
Jolley Trolley revenues have increased in recent years, but have not kept up with increasing fuel costs. Kirbas projects 2006/07 charter revenue of $103-thousand, up from an estimated $98-thousand in 2005/06 and $92-thousand in 2004/05. Advertising revenue has also increased, with a 2006/07 projection of $92-thousand, up from an estimated $79-thousand in 2005/06 and $74-thousand in 2004/05.
Passenger fares are the Jolley Trolley's largest source of income, with $120-thousand projected for 2006/07, up from 2005/06 estimates of $114-thousand. That increase is based largely on the 25-cent rise in fares scheduled for May 1. But Kirbas is concerned that the construction of Beach Walk might reduce tourism and, as a result, fare revenue.
Kirbas is looking to the City for help. Based on his preliminary budget estimate, he plans to ask for $309-thousand in City subsidy next year, up $28-thousand from this year. In 1994, Clearwater subsidized the Jolley Trolley with $360-thousand according to Kirbas; it has been declining over time to an all-time low of $281-thousand this year. "We've been nibbling away at that every year. We just can't nibble away at it any more," Kirbas said of the City subsidy.
Kirbas considered a reduction in service as a way to contain costs, but has all but ruled that out. "We are a tourist amenity, not a transportation company," he said, "If we reduce service, our value to the tourism industry would decline at a time when it needs every bit of help it can find."
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