Trolleys to replace shuttle buses in downtown Delray Beach

Delray Beach is taking a hint from one of San Francisco’s legendary landmarks and adding trolleys in June to the downtown scene.

The city, in partnership with the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency, has purchased three new trolley-style vehicles to be used within the Downtown Roundabout system, replacing the existing shuttle buses.

An official start date for the trolleys has not been determined.

The new trolleys will continue to provide free transportation between the Delray Beach Tri-Rail station and the beach via Atlantic Avenue, with stops along the way.

The route, which will operate daily from 6:15 a.m. to 11 p.m., focuses on transporting train travelers to work or play in Delray.

“We’re pretty much meeting every train out there except one or two in the early morning,” said Scott Aronson, the city’s parking management specialist. Aronson said the city plans to eliminate the current route that transports riders north and south along A1A.

The trolleys were purchased with a $300,000 grant from the Florida Department of Transportation, which requires Tri-Rail service, and a $550,000 contribution from the Delray Beach CRA.

City commissioners approved the grants at their May 21 meeting.

When the Downtown Roundabout was launched in 2009, the city planned to purchase trolley vehicles but could not afford them. Aronson said an initial bid for trolleys was $96 an hour, which made the $38.50-per-hour shuttle bus option more appealing at the time.

“Having actual trolley vehicles was the initial goal, but it was cost-prohibitive,” said Elizabeth Borrows, the CRA’s marketing and grants manager. “Now we’ve had the chance to purchase the vehicles, which brings down the operating costs.”

The program boasts solid ridership; according to the data, the shuttle bus service transported 156,000 riders in 2012, and from January to March of this year, 78,800 riders took the buses.

“In my opinion, if you need a ride, you need a ride. But we could see an increase [in ridership] due to the unique character of the trolleys,” Aronson said.

The red and blue traditional-style trolleys have large windows, a shift from the smaller buses reminiscent of airport shuttles.

“The new vehicles are actual trolleys,” Borrows said. “While it’s been a successful program [with the buses], we’re excited because they will be so much more attractive and inviting.”

The buses were wrapped in advertising, allowing riders to see outside but pedestrians unable to see inside. Borrows said the buses’ appearance may have made them seem uninviting.

“If you didn’t know to look for [the shuttle bus], it could be mistaken as another company,” she said. “If there are tourists and visitors who happen upon the trolley, it’ll be a happy surprise. Having a trolley that is highly visible is going to go a long way for visitors.”