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- 2009 - February - 6th -

Beach trolley service finalized soon

Mike Sharkey

When will service begin?

How much will it cost?

Who will pay for it?

These are just a handful of the questions City Council members Art Graham and Kevin Hyde posed during a Thursday meeting with JTA Executive Director Michael Blaylock and JTA spokesperson Mike Miller.

While no one had the answers, two things are certain: Graham says the popular service will return this summer and Hyde will get everything ironed out within the next two weeks.

Last summer, JTA offered trolley service at the beach Monday-Sunday for the first time and the free service proved successful beyond anything anyone could have expected. According to JTA, ridership far exceeded projected forecasts. The first week of August, well over 4,000 people rode the trolleys while JTA only expected about 1,400 ridership. With the exception of the weekend Tropical Storm Fay was lingering in the area, ridership exceeded forecasts every weekend. Overall, over 32,000 used the trolley.

Graham would like to see the service expanded this year to 15 weeks instead of 10 and he’s in favor of charging $1 per person, per trip. Last year, the service began Memorial Day weekend and went through Labor Day. However, if funding isn’t available for the full 15 weeks from April-Labor Day, Graham would be happy if JTA could provide the service the weekends of the Springing the Blues festival, the opening of the beaches and The Players Championship.

“Maybe it could just operate those three weekends and use them as a teaser,” said Graham.

“I will ask the staff to look at those three weekends to set the stage for Memorial weekend and go from there,” said Blaylock.

Miller said JTA hasn’t determined how much it will cost to operate four trolleys for 27 hours each weekend because no decision has been made on exactly when the service will begin. He did say JTA expects this summer’s service to cost in excess of $200,000. Some of that funding will come from a combination of the following: the Duval Tourist Development Council, JTA, the mayor’s office, City Council and possibly the three beach cities. The rest will have come in the form of sponsorships. A task force has been formed to secure those sponsorships and there is talk creating weekend or monthly passes. JTA proposed charging 50 cents per rider. However, that would require the installation of fare boxes on the trolleys sent to the beach. Also, drivers do not have a way to make change, so riders would be issued vouchers instead of money.

“We are trying to create a niche market and the Beach and Riverside trolleys represent part of that niche,” said Blaylock. “The results have been very, very favorable. We designed those routes for a target market, that’s why sponsors are important.”

Also at question is the route the trolleys will use. Some have requested the route incorporates a portion of both Atlantic and Beach boulevards, something Graham doesn’t favor. Graham — who uses the service 4-5 times each weekend — is adamant about making sure the wait between trolleys is no more than 15 minutes. He said anything longer than that will prompt people to drive instead of use the trolley.

“If you go to 20 minutes between trolleys, you will lose a lot of people,” said Graham.

msharkey@baileypub.com

356-2466

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