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Published: 11/3/2006

TARTA dropping shopping center trolley shuttles

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
TARTA s trolley-style bus for downtown s lunchtime crowd may have reached the end of the line
as well, offi cials say. Only 778 people used the service during this year s summer-only run.
TARTA s trolley-style bus for downtown s lunchtime crowd may have reached the end of the line as well, offi cials say. Only 778 people used the service during this year s summer-only run.
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TARTA's trolley-style buses won't be shuttling between Westfield Franklin Park and Westgate Shopping Center this holiday season, and they may be eliminated altogether from Toledo-area streets.

The Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority has pulled the plug on the specially lighted "Holiday Trolley Sleigh" service between Franklin Park mall and Westgate because of slumping ridership.

James Gee, the agency's general manager, told the authority's board of trustees of the decision yesterday.

Mr. Gee said eliminating the diesel buses designed to look like old-time streetcars will produce a "minimal cost savings," but will be consistent with transit authority efforts to make the most of its re-sources. No board action was necessary.

Afterward, Mr. Gee said TARTA staff plans to look into swapping the five trolley-style buses to another transit agency for regular buses. If that occurs, TARTA could discontinue its lunchtime trolley service through downtown, whose ridership also has plunged during the last five years.

"We have not made a final decision yet," Mr. Gee emphasized. The lunch shuttles, he said, "have been great for our visibility, but obviously we need to balance the public-relations benefit with maintenance cost and the cost of operating the service."

TARTA calculates its cost of operating one hour of trolley-bus service at $34.36, plus marketing. On that basis, the Lunch Trolley cost $16,733 to operate this year, and the holiday shuttles would have cost the transit authority $7,624 to run this season had they not been canceled.

In 2002, when the TARTA lunch shuttle last operated year-round, it carried 7,818 passengers over the course of 254 operating days, for an average of 30.8 riders per day. But this year, when service was provided only during the summer, just 778 people boarded the lunch shuttles during 69 days of operation, for a daily average of 11.4.

The "Holiday Trolley Sleigh" route, whose 25-cent fare was the same as the lunch shuttle, attracted 1,200 riders in both 2002 and 2003, but dropped off to 1,070 in 2004 and 635 in 2005. The special buses ran on the Friday after Thanksgiving and Saturdays and Sundays between then and Christmas.

Mr. Gee said Westgate's decline in shopper popularity in recent years was a primary reason for the holiday service's slump. TARTA had promoted the service as a way to shop at both Westgate and the Franklin Park mall without having to battle traffic on Monroe Street and Secor Road.

Until three years ago, TARTA's trolley fleet was a familiar sight not only carrying shuttle passengers, but also handling charters for weddings, birthday parties, and the like. But in 2003, the Federal Transit Administration ordered TARTA out of that service after agreeing with private charter bus companies that argued the transit agency's service violated federal law.

TARTA originally had six trolley buses, but one was sold last year to a group in Elmore.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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