Weekend night trolley coming to Riverside, Avondale and 5 Points

Weekend night trolley coming to Riverside, Avondale and 5 Points

Pilot program begins first weekend in January

Carmen Godwin and Allan DeVault have chased the Riverside/Avondale weekend night trolley for at least three years. Thanks to new leadership at Jacksonville Transit Authority and a culmination of timely events, they finally caught it.
riverside trolley
Beginning January 3, a JTA sponsored trolley will run the first weekend (Friday and Saturday) of each month for three months from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. It will make figure eight runs around 5 Points, Avondale and Riverside, including King Street. The cost is $1.50 for a single ride or $4 for a day pass.

“I am just so thrilled to see it finally coming to fruition after all this time,” said Godwin, Riverside Avondale Preservation executive director.

Getting to this point has been a winding road with a few false starts, but has led to a point of perfect convergence between JTA, city leaders, area merchants, RAP, residents and the need to address the neighborhood’s parking concerns.

“Three years ago we tried a night trolley for First Wednesday Art Walk downtown with mixed results, so JTA gave up on it,” said DeVault, president of 5 Points Merchants Association. “That was one of the first nighttime trolley attempts and there was a lot of talking and mourning after it failed.”

Metro Jacksonville sponsored successful but limited Pub Crawls, most recently last November, but, again, no follow through.

Then came the very successful September Riverside/Avondale Trolley Night sponsored by RAP and 25 area merchants, and along with it a clear momentum shift, particularly in the response from JTA under the new leadership of Nat Ford.

District 14 Councilman Jim Love sent Ford and Brad Thoburn, JTA’s vice president of planning and development, photos of Trolley Night and an invitation for JTA to sponsor a permanent trolley.

“Nat Ford took all of our data and success from RAP’s evening trolley run and didn’t hesitate to try a pilot program,” Godwin said.
The pilot will run three buses until midnight, with one until 2 a.m. They will be 40-minute routes with buses overlapping every 13 minutes. “Riders will be able to hop off and shortcut a loop,” Thoburn said.

Avondale software designer Dylan Phillips has made such “bus hopping” as easy as using your Smartphone. He designed a website that uses GPS to display real time locations of trolleys as they run their routes (http://trolley.jaxmob.com/).

“You can track the trolley from your phone while waiting in a bar or restaurant and then come out when it arrives,” Phillips said.
Love estimated there are 60 of those bars and restaurants along the route.

“Dylan and RAP coordinated with JTA to plan the route to hit a high concentration of eating and drinking establishments without being too large a loop,” Love said. “We want to make it convenient and enjoyable so people come out during the pilot run.”

To that end, RAP volunteers will have hand held devices to swipe credit cards so patrons can purchase $4 bus passes at many restaurants, bars and on the trolleys.
“You can’t normally buy one-day passes on trolleys, so we are making inroads with JTA with them allowing us to provide this service,” said Andy Zarka, co-owner of European Street Café.

Zarka outlined two goals for the pilot program: convincing neighborhood residents to ride the trolley rather than drive their car, and getting people who live outside of the neighborhood to drive their cars to perimeter lots and then take the trolley to their destination.

“A RAP study showed 40 percent of patrons in local bars and restaurants live in the neighborhood,” Zarka said. It only stands to reason that convincing these people to take the trolley rather than drive a mile or less will reduce the demand for parking.

Thoburn said JTA’s goals for the pilot are a work in progress.

“The question is, what defines success in a niche market like Riverside? My expectation is that we look at results after three, then after six months and try to continue to expand. We’ll evaluate it based on how it compares with other routes. It’s one thing to make it work one night; but to sustain it is the challenge. That’s where partnerships like this one between neighborhood groups, businesses and JTA can really make a difference. It’s not just showing how it can work, but also being partners in implementing it. You can’t put a price on that.”
All stakeholders agree that it is imperative to get the word out and sustain ridership for all three pilot months.

“We have 12 days to pack the trolley. If we can’t, then we don’t deserve it; if we can, then we deserve to have the service expanded,” Love said.
Godwin has long been convinced that it is the latter.

“The night trolley is going to mean so much to our community…we need to buy into it and stop driving cars four or five blocks. Hop on a trolley and enjoy the evening.”
By Steve DiMattia
Resident Community News

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