By Jane Smith
Trolley service was scheduled to return to downtown Delray Beach on Nov. 1.
The city’s Community Redevelopment Agency board, made up of the city commissioners and two citizens, voted 6-1 on Oct. 22 to pay for three months of the trolley operations along Atlantic Avenue, costing about $120,000.
To allow for flexibility in the season, the contract can be extended another three months, said Jeff Costello, CRA executive director.
During that time, data on the number of trolley riders and stops will be collected to adjust the trolley schedule every 30 days. An existing app, called Transit, will be available for riders with smartphones to find out when the next trolley will stop. And trolleys may have signs that say they’re free.
“Putting the trolley back into service is a Band-Aid,” said Bill Bathurst, a board member and city commissioner. “It won’t be one-size-fits-all with the trolley. … But when we pulled the trolley out and the Downtowner left at the same time, it showed how weak our system is.”
Both services stopped on Sept. 30.
The CRA board will meet with the Downtown Development Authority board for a Nov. 14 workshop to discuss downtown transportation. Members will talk about route changes, other sources of money to pay for the transportation services, natural gas or electric-powered vehicles and other topics related to reducing the number of vehicles downtown.
Board member Adam Frankel, who also is a city commissioner, was the lone no vote.
To ease his concern about whether the numbers provided by the trolley driver can be trusted, the DDA has some money to do a count of the riders at a particular stop, said Laura Simon, DDA executive director.
Four people spoke at the CRA meeting during public comments. All were for the trolley or some other form of downtown transportation.
Scott Roberts, general manager of the Fairfield Inn, told the CRA board members he’s OK with a nominal fee to keep the trolley operating. “If my guests have to use their cars or rental cars, they go to other cities to have dinner and not Atlantic Avenue,” he said.
When commercial real estate agent Christina Morrison sat on the Congress Avenue Task Force, the group wanted to supply transportation to allow workers west of the interstate to travel east to have lunch downtown, without using their cars. “Keep the trolley,” she said.
“Our tourism depends on the transportation system,” said Rick Konsavage, regional operations director for Ocean Properties. In Delray Beach, its holdings are the Marriott and Residence Inn hotels, Boston’s and 50 Ocean restaurants, and the tiki bar called Sandbar — all on the barrier island.
In mid-October, one group that stayed at the Marriott for its annual meeting was disappointed when it arrived, Konsavage said. “They picked our site because their members would not need to rent a car. But when they got here, there was no trolley and no Downtowner,” an electric vehicle ride service.
For the five properties, about 20 percent of the staff relies on the trolley to get to work, Konsavage said.
Even so, the two citizen members on the CRA board, Angie Gray and Pamela Brinson, don’t think the agency should have to pay the entire bill for the trolley’s operating costs.
“That’s a great question for the future,” said Shelly Petrolia, CRA board chairwoman and mayor. Petrolia suggested possible money sources may come from a nominal fee, advertising and the hotels. All will be discussed Nov. 14.
By Jane Smith