Residents offer suggestions to up trolley ridership

It’s been three months since the Jacksonville Transportation Authority decided to extend the hours of the Riverside/Avondale Night Trolley from once a month to every weekend, thanks to financial support of 14 area businesses. But with ridership lagging well below the required trips per weekend necessary to make it a viable long-term public transportation option, there is a question as to whether weekly service will be continued in September.

No decision has been made yet by JTA to cancel the weekend trolley, said Leigh Ann Rassler, a JTA spokesperson, adding she planned to set up a meeting with the commercial sponsors in June to talk about ridership and what more can be done to promote the night streetcar.

A monthly trolley service began in January 2014 as a way to balance customer parking with the traffic concerns of residents living adjacent to the small commercial strips, which are nestled throughout Avondale and Riverside. The supporting businesses committed until August to sponsor the trolley through advertising as a way to balance customer parking with resident’s traffic concerns. 

According to Rassler, the monthly trolley averaged 400 trips per weekend, however, the weekend trolley has reached nowhere near as many trips. At the advent of the weekly service, ridership was targeted at 500 trips per weekend, but has averaged 128 trips in the 13 weeks since the service was expanded to include every Friday and Saturday, said Rassler, noting ridership peaked the second weekend in April with 216 trips.

Rassler insists the trolley service has been well advertised in print and social media. In a man-on-the-street survey of residents from nearby neighborhoods, The Resident discovered nearly everyone had heard of the trolley service, but very few were likely to ride it. In speaking with 17 local residents who were out and about in front of Riverside’s Cool Moose, Southern Roots Filling Station and near the Fox Restaurant in the Avondale Shoppes, The Resident only found two couples who had ever ridden the trolley and only one couple, Erica and Curtis Whitehouse of Riverside, who utilize it on a weekly basis.

“People just don’t know about it. They need to advertise it,” said Erica Whitehouse. “I’ve seen it on the 5 Points Facebook page. They need to increase the number of places the cards are sold and push it on people.”

Tickets can be purchased at JTA vending machines, Walgreens, JAX Bold City Brewery, Mellow Mushroom in Avondale, Grassroots Natural Market and European Street. Single trips cost $1.50 apiece, said Rassler, adding that the most convenient way to buy a ticket is to download JTA’s free mobile application, MyJTA, from Google Play or the Apple App Store for an unlimited-ride, single-day trolley and bus pass at a cost of $4. Seniors 65 and older with a valid senior STAR card have complimentary access.

Several of the residents polled had several suggestions on how JTA could improve ridership. Businesses should offer discounts and freebies to trolley riders, and several felt additional stops, such as Unity Plaza, the Florida Yacht Club and Ortega should be included on the route.

“They need to brand certain events – for instance this weekend is a pub crawl. They should include Unity Plaza to increase ridership,” said Mike Bernos of Riverside. “They need specific, event-driven marketing, and if you show your ticket, you get a discount. They need to advertise it on social media – to say something like the trolley is running and tonight’s social is … They should take turns highlighting different businesses, perhaps one in each district, and then the next week do another business,” he said, adding the businesses in the area should rotate being featured each week.

Robert G. Alexander of Riverside went one step further suggesting leaflets be distributed to the individual homes up and down Riverside and St. Johns Avenues. “I believe the old folks in these houses would ride it if they knew it existed, which I doubt [they do know],” he said.

Glenna Veiga agreed, saying not only does JTA need to get word out, also to work on changing the image of the trolley. “There needs to be greater marketing or public awareness of it. They have to change the image of the trolley from use only for special occasions to regular use. People don’t think of it as part of the fabric of life here. It adds another layer or dimension to this part of town.”

Rassler said she promotes the trolley on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and has distributed 6,000 flyers through restaurants’ check presenters. “We had an ad in the Resident News in April. I put out a press release in February and had good coverage from the news media. I continually promote the trolleys (Riverside and the Beaches) on social media and tag other organizations and our partners in the posts,” she said in an email. The trolley has also been featured on JTA Making Moves, which is available for viewing on WJXX-ABC25 and WJXT-4 in Jacksonville, and JTA has a website page devoted to the Riverside Avondale Night Trolley, she said, noting riders can find out about neighborhood deals by going on riversideavondalenighttrolley.com/neighborhood-deals/ or bit.ly/trolleytreats.

Other membership organizations are also working to incorporate the trolley into their monthly socials, she said. Riverside Avondale Preservation held a trolley social in June while DapperJAX, a fun group that dresses up in their “dapper best” will hold one July 16, and The Contemporaries, MOCA’s young professionals group, have scheduled one for July 29.

More than one resident felt the trolley should be marketed outside of Riverside Avondale in ways which would entice residents from other neighborhoods to enjoy the area’s restaurants and bars. “They should advertise it in other areas of Jacksonville so people can come to this area and explore,” said Kristopher Shold of Riverside. “There are so many hidden gems here that you don’t know about unless you are local. It should go to all the breweries and places beside Mellow Mushroom and Derby on Park. I’d encourage people to use it who don’t live on this side of the river. It’s good to use if you are bouncing around and want to explore the area and aren’t familiar with all the places you can go.”

The two couples interviewed who have used the trolley said it is helpful when friends who live outside the neighborhood come to visit. “Our Southside friends often come in to ride the trolley with us,” said Bonnie McCormick of Avondale, adding that she and her husband used the trolley nearly every month when it was a monthly service.

Erica Whitehouse agreed. “We like it especially when our friends come into town,” she said. “It’s one of the coolest things about living here. We moved here from Ohio, and it’s been one of the best things about the area.”


By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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