Gables Considers Expanding Popular Trolley Service
By Shannon Pettypiece
Coral Gables officials are considering expanding the city’s trolley service, which began rolling three months ago, to meet greater demand.
The downtown trolley carries more than 1,500 riders a day, according to city records. That is 50% more than was expected when the system went online at the end of November.
Many cars are full during peak hours and the city is considering adding to its five-car fleet.
"The administration recommends that the city explore the possibility of purchasing two additional trolleys to meet the demand of a growing ridership," wrote Coral Gables City Manager David Brown in a memo to the City Commission. "It is not unusual to find trolleys filled to capacity at certain times of the day. When this occurs, patrons waiting at a trolley stop must continue to wait for the next trolley."
There has been talk of expanding hours and adding weekend service, said Carola Cespedes of Treister Murry Agency, which markets the trolley service.
The trolley runs along Miracle Mile 3-7 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 3-10 p.m. Friday each week. Hours for the North-South route along Ponce de Leon Boulevard from the Douglas Road Metrorail station to Southwest Eighth Street are 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays and 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays.
The service has been targeted at commuters working in Coral Gables, said Ms. Cespedes.
The trolleys function much like buses, running on roadways instead of light-rail tracks like those in San Francisco. But the cars have more appeal than a bus, city officials said.
According to the city, the most popular stop is the Douglas Road Metrorail station, with 350 riders a day.
Businesses along the trolley route have been getting more customer traffic and restaurants have noticed an increase in lunch business, said Silvia Mestre, director of the city’s Business Improvement District.
The trolley service also has saved money for employers who pay workers’ parking fees and left more parking spaces open for customers, Ms. Mestre said.
"For a lot of small businesses, instead of employees coming in and using the parking spaces, they are taking the trolley to work," Ms. Mestre said. "It is especially helpful in small shops where they have to pay for parking. It is about $80 a month for parking."
But the parking situation has not noticeably improved, Ms. Mestre said, in part because the city lost a parking lot on Aragon Avenue.
"The benefits of people not having to drive when coming to lunch is a little offset because we recently lost a parking lot," Ms. Mestre said.
More than $1.7 million has been invested in the trolleys, with Miami-Dade County paying $1.4 million for purchase of the cars. The cost of operations for the first year is expected to be $65,000, which will be reimbursed by the Florida Department of Transportation.
Another funding source is a countywide half-penny sales surtax approved by voters in November 2002. Coral Gables has received $809,000 from the surtax as part of a 10% share of county surtax revenue earmarked for municipalities.
Florida Department of Transportation spokeswoman Aymee Ruiz said she has been using the trolley to go to lunch in Coral Gables and has seen a different group of people using it than those that use other forms of public transportation.
"You see people in suits and kids riding it," Ms. Ruiz said. "It has really been successful."