Frigid breezes and temperatures in the 30s didn’t stop Willie Campbell from running errands from Williamsburg to Hampton using public transportation last week.
When a trolley pulled up to the Ironbound Road stop where he was waiting, Campbell lugged a holiday gift and his duffel bag up the steps to take his first ride on what’s become a staple in Williamsburg and James City County during the past few years.
Trolley service, which began in 2010, is relatively new to the Williamsburg Area Transit Authority.
“It’s nice to have,” said Campbell, a Williamsburg resident.
The trolley runs a 30-minute loop between popular areas in Williamsburg — from New Town to the College of William and Mary to Colonial Williamsburg — then back to its stop at Legacy Hall on New Town Avenue.
The service is a part of the larger WATA organization, which has been around since the 1970s and has grown to provide public transit service to Williamsburg and Newport News, as well as York, Surry and James City counties. The transit authority runs a fleet of more than 20 buses and two trolleys.
The trolley’s ridership spikes in October and November as holiday shoppers use it as an alternative to driving congested areas in Williamsburg and James City County, according to WATA communications specialist Michele Canty.
On a busy day, the trolley has roughly 140 riders, but averages dozens of riders on weekdays, according to 2017 WATA ridership figures.
Last year, 33,088 people took the trolley, according to WATA.
Out with the old
WATA officials expect the trolley’s popularity to grow when a new trolley replaces the older model this year, Canty said.
“We’ve had the trolley for a number of years and one is coming to the end of its useful life, so it was time to replace one,” said Zach Trogdon, WATA executive director.
In December, a new trolley decked out in red, white and blue paint and more padded seats debuted in the Williamsburg Christmas Parade.
The new trolley’s color scheme replaces the classic red, green and gold the trolley has donned for the past several years.
WATA has not set an official date to put the new trolley in service. The electronic readout that tells riders the date, time and stop names would not display, so it was sent back to the manufacturer for repair.
“We hope to have the new trolley in service by early 2018,” Canty said Friday. “The company services trolleys from all over the country, so we have to wait our turn.”
The service started with three trolleys in 2009. WATA was awarded a 2016 federal grant to replace one trolley each in 2017 and 2018.
The grant was for $500,000 and the trolleys cost roughly $164,000 each.
WATA is partially funded through rider fares. Other funding comes from local government, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration.
The standard fee is $1.50. One free ride a day is available for William and Mary students with a student ID.
Local business owners see the benefit of the trolley.
Scott Grafton, owner of Iron-Bound Gym, which is next to Legacy Hall, hopes updating the trolley will continue to improve business in New Town.
“The more ways to get people to New Town the better. I always think of that as a positive. Hopefully, it’ll bring more college kids here, you can walk around, have something to eat and shop,” Grafton said.
Deborah Newkirk, who owns JuiceFix Juicery, said if the trolley can pick up more students it would continue to help her company.
Computer Concepts owner Hank Healy said the trolley helps his business.
“We get quite a bit of customers from the school with people using the trolley,” Healy said. “It gives them transportation because a lot of students don’t have cars, and it drops them off right around the corner.”
Despite, not having a firm date of release, WATA expects the trolley will still be of service to the community.
“The trolley is a comfortable, cheap way to visit a lot of places in Williamsburg without having to worry about parking or traffic,” Canty said. “The service continues to be popular with locals and tourists and it’s one we’ll maintain as long as people enjoy it.”
Jefferson can be reached by phone at 757-790-9313.