Aboard the trolley

Mayor looks to add trolley service for public transportation
Thursday, September 2, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:30 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Move over city buses. Downtown may get a blast from the past.

The possibility of starting a downtown trolley service has Mayor Darwin Hindman excited. Hindman said he would like to see the issue before the City Council “as soon as possible.”

But the mayor, along with city transportation officials, stressed that the idea is simply an idea, and there are no timetables or plans to start the project.

“We’re really at the stage of looking at possibilities,” said Columbia Public Works Supervisor Mark Grindstaff. “We are not at that point of even having a proposal.”

Grindstaff said the trolleys could cost between $130,000 and $200,000 each.

The city is looking into customized buses made to look like traditional trolleys. They would be especially useful to students and visitors to Columbia, said Hindman, who was impressed by a similar service running in Missoula, Mont.

Grindstaff said the mayor is interested in having two trolleys run on the current downtown orbiter route, which serves the downtown area, the MU campus, University Hospital, Boone Hospital Center and Wabash Station.

Hindman said he thinks a trolley service would draw attention to the city’s public transportation system and encourage residents to use it.

Silas Koonse, a sophomore at MU, said the trolley idea sounds good. Koonse, who has lived in Columbia for 20 years and has never ridden a city bus, said he would try a trolley service if the city started one.

“Something needs to be done to make public transportation more appealing to people,” Koonse said.

Linda Potter of Moberly, who was downtown Wednesday morning to do some shopping, said a trolley would help students and alleviate traffic congestion.

Potter added that she would probably not use a service like the one the mayor is interested in because she drives to Columbia for specific purposes and rarely visits downtown and the MU campus during the same trip.

The mayor said he has seen the trolleys in cities like St. Louis and Chicago, but the ones that caught his eye run in Missoula.

Home of the University of Montana, Missoula is a college town about the size of Columbia. The city’s trolley service, called Mountain Line, must accommodate college students, residents and weekend shoppers, said Stephen Earle, Mountain Line general manager.

The trolley makes midday runs, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., from a general parking area to the university and then into downtown. It appeals to riders who want something different than the regular city bus, Earle said, because of its resemblance to classic trolleys such as those in San Francisco.

The strategy has worked, the general manager said.

“It’s a carnival ride,” he said. “Its advantages are its marketing. It really beefs up midday service.”

Lyn Hellegaard, executive director for the Missoula Ravalli Transportation Management Association, met Hindman when he visited last spring. She said many of Missoula’s transportation woes, such as downtown parking and congestion, mirror those of Columbia.

“Our towns are so much alike it’s scary,” Hellegaard said.

Despite his excitement, the mayor said there may be some problems with starting the service. He said the trolleys would have to run exclusively on the orbiter route and could not be used to replace buses that break down on other routes.

Other details related to operating hours and fares would be addressed if the City Council decides to hear the issue, Hindman said.

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