San Marco merchants consider lunchtime trolley service

Jacksonville Transit Authority officials shared some specifics of what it would take to bring a lunchtime trolley to San Marco during a meeting of the San Marco Merchant’s Association Jan. 18.

JTA’s Carl Weckenmann, senior manager of Systems Planning, and Lisa Darnell, vice president of transit operations, were invited to address SMMA at its meeting at Theatre Jacksonville in San Marco Square.

The San Marco Merchants Association has long been interested in finding an easy way to assist Southbank employees, particularly from Baptist Medical Center Jacksonville, in patronizing San Marco restaurants and businesses during lunchtime without exacerbating the parking problem that has long plagued San Marco Square.

In studying the trolley concept, Weckenmann said he had reviewed the arrangement JTA had with Riverside/Avondale, where it has supplied a weekend evening trolley to bring riders on a weekend circuit to bars and restaurants in the 5 Points, Park and King Streets, and Shoppes of Avondale shopping areas.

Realistically, to get workers back and forth to work and avoid long waits at the bus stop, the JTA would need to run at least two trolleys, Weckenmann said. The cost in “sponsorships” from the merchants would mirror what JTA charged Riverside/Avondale merchants, he said.

The direct cost of running two trolleys for three hours each weekday for a month would be between $6,000 and $6,500, approximately $300 per day, he said. The merchants’ “sponsorship” would cover the cost of the trolley operator and fuel, while all other costs would be borne by JTA, he said.

The fare charged by JTA to ride the trolley is $1.50 per trip, Weckenmann said. All money raised from revenue generated by the service is credited back to SMMA. “If it’s a popular service, the subsidy won’t necessarily be as high,” he said adding, over a six-hour period a trolley needs to collect 120 individual fares to make operation worthwhile.

The design of the trolley route would be simple, Weckenmann said. It could run down Palm Avenue, San Marco Boulevard and Hendricks Avenue in a continuous loop. Approximately 10 to 15 minutes would probably be the longest any rider would wait at a stop between trolleys, he said. The trolleys could utilize existing bus stops along San Marco Boulevard and Hendricks Avenue, and it is “not a big problem” to add stops, provided they are American Disability Act (ADA) accessible, he said. “I believe you have a sufficient number of stops already,” Weckenmann said.

To speed up the wait time between stops, it would be possible to add a third trolley, but the cost of the service would be more expensive, he said.

One hurdle with running the routes to Baptist Medical Center is the risk of getting hung up at a railroad crossing due to the necessity for the trolley to cross the tracks so it can complete the circuit, Weckenmann said.

The parking lot between the two halves of Gary Street near San Marco Boulevard is currently being used by the medical center while Baptist MD Anderson is built, but will become available for public parking once construction is complete, said City Council President Lori Boyer, who represents District 5.

Currently Baptist is willing to allow public parking there nights and weekends, Boyer said. It could possibly be a convenient place for the trolley use as a turn around so it would not have to cross the railroad tracks. It can also be used as a hub for trolley riders to park if they are heading into San Marco Square, she said.

Discussion on the feasibility of offering the trolley will continue within SMMA, with perhaps one or two members tapped to spearhead a study of the initiative, said SMMA President Robert Harris at the meeting.

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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