Ding-ding-ding went the Riverside trolley

Ding-ding-ding went the Riverside trolley

A first person report on JTA’s trial run –

One of my favorite things about living in the historic district is the number and diversity of places to eat and drink. What I don’t love, however, is the parking – or rather, the lack thereof. Few things irritate me more than driving circles around 5 Points or the Shoppes of Avondale trying to find a parking spot, especially when I’m hungry and/or thirsty.

So when the Riverside Avondale Trolley pilot program was announced, I thought for sure the folks at Riverside Avondale Preservation had been reading my diary.

Joey Marchy and Liz Grebe

Joey Marchy and Liz Grebe

From January through June, the Riverside Trolley, operated by the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA), will run from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. the first Friday and Saturday of the month. In other words, for six months, I won’t have to worry about parking…or not being able to drink in order to drive home…or drinking and waiting around on a taxi (that may or may not show up) or walking a mile home in the dark.

That first Saturday night, some friends and I gathered at European Street Café for some pre-trolley festivities, all the while keeping an eye on trolley.jaxmob.com on our cellphones. The website, created by RAP board member Dylan Phillips, showed each of the nearly 50 trolley stops along the route and where each of the three trolleys were at any given time. When we saw a trolley about a block away, we grabbed our coats (for the record, we had already paid our bill in anticipation of a hasty departure) and raced down Park Street.

Like the overwhelming majority of folks on the trolley that night, my experience riding public transportation was next to nil. When I got on board, I didn’t know what to do with my STAR Card (“just tap it on the fare box, ma’am”), where to sit (anywhere someone else isn’t, apparently) and, to be honest, where the trolley was going (yes, I had trolley.jaxmob.com pulled up on my phone, but apparently, no one clued the trolley driver in on the route).

Amy Robillard, Miranda Ray and Jeremy Brown

Amy Robillard, Miranda Ray and Jeremy Brown

For the next few hours, I rode around Riverside and Avondale, getting off whenever the urge struck me and my friends. In fact, if I’m being completely honest, riding the trolley was as much fun as wherever we ended up. I ran into friends, neighbors, former coworkers, even a couple of people I only knew through Twitter. Folks seemed to be having a great time and didn’t even mind the when it was standing-room-only – or when they missed their stop because they didn’t know to signal the driver (yet another thing we “choice riders” probably wouldn’t know).

And I wasn’t alone in my love of the trolley experience. “It was amazing. I did what I would do on a typical Saturday night: go out for dinner and drinks but instead of
driving and cabbing it, my friends and I used the trolley,” says Liz Grebe of Riverside. “It was packed with strangers and friends, and it was great to see how excited everyone was to be on it.”

Project organizers, like Carmen Godwin, executive director of RAP, were also thrilled at the response. “We’ve been trying to create a viable, frequent [public transportation] service for the neighborhoods for a very long time,” she says. “We always thought a nighttime trolley service would be successful, and it was.” According to Godwin, more than 960 trips were made the first weekend “and as more people learn about it and learn how to use it, it’s only going to get better.”
Speaking of which, here are some tips to help you better navigate the trolley this month and beyond.

trolley strip

Trolley Tips

• WHEN TO RIDE: The Riverside Avondale Trolley runs the first weekend of the month from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. through June.

• FARE: JTA’s one-day pass is your best bet. With it, you can ride the trolley all night long for only $4. Passes can be purchased for $4.00 at participating merchants including Black Sheep and European Street and the RAP office. Without a pass, you pay $1.50 per trip. That means, every time you get on the trolley, you’ll have to pay $1.50.

• WHERE TO BOARD: Make sure you are standing at a JTA bus stop sign, not across the street or halfway down the block from the sign. It doesn’t matter what route is listed on the sign. With there being nearly 50 stops on the route, drivers will only stop when you signal them you want to ride.

• RIDING: If you’ve never ridden a JTA bus before, you may want to check out the “How to Ride” videos on JTA’s website (jtafla.com). For example, have your fare ready before you get onboard. Fumbling around for your pass or money holds everybody up. Also, drivers cannot make change.

• STOPPING: With so many stops along the route, the driver will not stop unless someone is standing at a stop and waves or a rider signals he or she wants to get off the trolley. To signal the driver to stop when on board, pull the cord just above the windows several blocks before your intended stop. Incidentally, the driver can only stop at designated stops. In other words, don’t ask him or her to drop you off in front of your house so you don’t have to walk as far.

• TRACK THE TROLLEY: Using trolley.jaxmob.com on your smartphone is absolutely essential. Check it out before you board. Bookmark it even! Also, it’s a website – not an app – and doesn’t need to be downloaded.

•  BE PATIENT: Trolleys are scheduled to arrive every 13 minutes; however, traffic, getting caught at a train or other issues beyond the driver’s control can cause it to run behind schedule. Conversely, if there is no traffic or few stops, a trolley may arrive early in which case the driver should remain at a stop to get back on schedule (though, that doesn’t always happen).

Visit riversideavondalenighttrolley.com for more information on the Riverside Avondale Trolley including where to purchase passes. Enjoy the ride!
By Kerry Speckman
Resident Community News

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