KY: Clang Clang Clang Goes the Trolley

July 30--About 3,900 riders have taken advantage of Owensboro's free, downtown trolley since the service kicked off the first day of July, a number that impresses Owensboro Transit System Manager Michael Hughes.

"We had 1,200-plus in six days last week," Hughes said Tuesday. "It is full a lot of the time. We had 1,100-plus the previous week. Those are great numbers. We've super-exceeded expectations. My drivers are telling me that Texas Gas employees are catching the trolley and taking it downtown for lunch. They are catching on that they can ride. It's picking up. I'm pleased with the numbers."

Regular trolley service is offered from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, and from 10 a.m. to midnight Thursday through Saturday, making stops about every 20 minutes at nine stops along Second and Third streets between Crittenden and Walnut streets.

The City Commission gave the go-ahead for free, downtown trolley service in January.

The trolley makes a continuous loop going west on Second Street and east on Third Street, using Crittenden and Walnut as north-south connectors.

Hughes, reading from Transit System computer reports, said the downtown trolley had 631 riders its first week and 941 the second week.

"It's doing fine in my opinion," Hughes said. "Our drivers say it's been super busy on Friday nights until midnight because of Friday After 5. It's been a hit. It's increased every single week. It's authentic and neat, especially for families with kids."

Mayor Ron Payne said he spoke Tuesday to a potential new restaurant owner with designs on a Second Street location.

"I was talking to the gentleman about parking and the trolley went by," Payne said. "He was very interested in the trolley. He thought the trolley would help him out a little, with people parking away and riding the trolley and stopping at his restaurant. It could mitigate his need for on-site parking. Maybe it will help swing him."

On Tuesday afternoon just before 3 p.m., the downtown trolley stopped at Second and Daviess. One passenger got on and a woman and a small child got off. Onboard at the time were three or four other riders. Two hours later, Chrissy Kurtz of Owensboro and her young boys Tom, Joseph and John Walter, and Elizabeth Smith of Cincinnati and her daughter Sarah stepped off the trolley at Allen and Second streets after riding two rounds.

"We wanted to tour all the new development and we thought it would be fun for the kids," Elizabeth Smith said. "Next we're going to the park. The trolley was immaculate, so nice. We saw the new hotels and the convention center, which is amazing. I couldn't believe it. I would love to be here and see uses it."

Smith said the idea of a trolley is "new and fresh.

"We don't have it in Cincinnati," she said. "I think it's awesome."

City officials said in January that the cost of downtown trolley service is estimated at $136,500 a year, with half paid for by federal transportation grants and the other half with city funds. The city purchased a new trolley in 2012 but has used it only sparingly. The trolley has been used for ceremonial purposes and special events since its arrival. The city uses larger standard transit buses on its regular daily routes.

Late last year, Rosemary Conder, former chairwoman of We Are Downtown, said she wanted to see a trolley running through downtown, picking up guests at the Holiday Inn (opening early next year), the Hampton Inn & Suites and the Owensboro Convention Center and taking them to other parts of downtown. Prior to that, the Corradino Group, which studied the Owensboro Transit Network, recommended a trolley to complement such downtown activities as Friday After 5.

The city's newest trolley and the one used for the downtown loop, was purchased in the fall of 2012 with $226,542 from federal transportation grant funds.

Steve Vied, (270 691-7297, svied@messenger-inquirer.com

Copyright 2014 - Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky.

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