Gables close to expanding trolley service
By Claudio Mendonça
Coral Gables is on the verge of expanding routes and buying new cars for its trolley system as demand continues to surge.
When Donna Fries boarded a trolley Friday, she became the 1 millionth passenger on the system since its inception in November 2003.
Trolleys currently carry 3,200 persons daily, running 6:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays.
The city has ordered feasibility studies on expanding the system from the University of Miami's industrial engineering department and David Plummer & Associates Inc., a transit-consulting firm. The Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization is paying 80% of the cost of the studies, the city 20%.
"Trolleys are one of our principal goals," said Mayor Don Slesnick, who expects new cars and expanded routes by October 2006.
Six trolleys are in use, and Mr. Slesnick is considering adding two to four. Trolley manager Ed Cox said the cost of new trolleys would be split between the Florida Department of Transportation and the city.
"When trolleys began running, we were estimating 1,000 riders per day," said Mr. Cox, who added that the city is exploring several possible expansions.
One option, Mr. Slesnick said, is to extend service south to the University of Miami near the Douglas Avenue Metrorail station. That route would stretch along Ponce de Leon Road to Metrorail's University station.
Another area needing service is the north side, where the mayor said the north-south route could approach Southwest Eighth Street. Another option is to take the trolley east to the McFarland section of the Gables approaching George W. Carver Elementary School.
Tim Plummer, a consultant for David Plummer & Associates, said the company should start the three-month study within two weeks.
The advantage of trolleys, Mr. Cox said, is that they cut traffic congestion. Since trolleys began running, the city has seen 800 fewer cars a week on its streets, according to a city Public Works Department study.
Trolleys, said Mr. Cox, also offer a free ride and promote better air quality, and patrons don't have to dealing with parking meters. "It is a viable and efficient service for residents."
Trolleys are subsidized by the county People's Transportation Plan, funded by a one-half-cent sales tax. According to Mr. Slesnick, of the $1.2 million annually allocated to Coral Gables from the tax, half goes to the trolley service.
A survey last year found that 52% of trolley users were Gables residents and 24% non-resident students. The findings also showed 83% of riders left their cars at home.
Trolleys have been run in Coral Gables since the 1920s. In the city's first venture, they ran as cable cars until 1935. In June 1988, another trolley returned on rubber tires at a 25-cent fare. The current system is the third trolley incarnation.