VA: Buses Fail to Draw Oceanfront Riders. Trolleys Might.

May 19--VIRGINIA BEACH

Atlantic Avenue's getting back a slice of its character.

By next summer, open-air trolleys will again roll down the Oceanfront's main street. The city budget that passed Tuesday included nearly $1.4 million to restore the novelty passenger service.

"They are coming," said Ray Amoruso, Hampton Roads Transit's chief officer for planning and development.

Fourteen trolleys will be purchased over two years with a state grant covering 55 percent of the cost and the city providing 45 percent from its Tourism Investment Fund.

"They're a hugely popular ride," said Preston Midgett, chairman of the Resort Advisory Commission's transportation committee.

He'll meet today with Hometown Trolley, a streetcar replica manufacturer from Wisconsin, and HRT to begin picking out a trolley style and amenities. The vintage look and removable windows are among the city's requests, plus maybe a heating option, so they can be used on the Boardwalk during the winter holiday light show, Amoruso said.

Red trolleys cruised the resort strip for years, but, in 2008, the fleet needed costly repairs and was taken out of service. Hampton Roads Transit replaced the trolleys with modern-looking enclosed, hybrid-electric and diesel buses.

"They don't create the charm that the old trolleys did," said Councilman John Uhrin, who serves the resort area.

Also, ridership has steadily declined with the introduction of the more-conventional buses, dropping from more than 400,000 passengers in 2007 to 315,000 last year.

"A bus doesn't give a sense that it's a short commute," Uhrin said. "Ridership assumes it's going to get on the bus and it's going to take them far away."

The Atlantic Avenue shuttle service dubbed VB Wave, part of HRT's Oceanfront system, transports passengers to stops from Rudee Inlet to 41st Street every day from May through September.

Daryl Bernard watched the trolleys work their charm during the 12 years he drove them on the Atlantic Avenue route. Tourists photographed themselves in front of them, and when they climbed aboard, they often headed straight to the open platform on the back.

"They would stand out there pointing at different things, calling out to people," Bernard said.

Stacy Parker, 757-222-5125, stacy.parker@pilotonline.com

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