Less than a year after it first revved its engine, a program to provide trolley services for Farmers Market of Bluffton patrons has run out of gas.
“We are out of the trolley business,” market manager Kim Viljac said earlier this week.
The trolley service, which launched in late March, shuttled visitors from a satellite parking area in the Bluffton Village neighborhood — north of the Promenade and adjacent to the Bluffton Library — to the market in Old Town.
The aim was to help market-goers avoid the notorious parking crunch in Bluffton’s historic district, market organizers said at the time the service started.
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Half of the service’s annual cost of nearly $21,500 was paid with town accommodations tax funds.
That money comes from a 2 percent tax on overnight lodging collected by the state and redistributed to counties and municipalities. It must be spent on programs that promote tourism and attract out-of-town visitors.
That last part — attracting tourists from outside of Bluffton — proved to be the nail in the coffin for the shuttle program, causing the town’s Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee to recommend discontinuing funding for the service. That recommendation was heeded earlier this week by Bluffton Town Council, which declined to approve future ATAX funding for the service.
ATAX committee chairman Bret Anthony said ridership information presented to the board “did not support a higher percentage of tourism than we had” before the trolley service was implemented.
“The committee felt that we should look at options other than a shuttle” to help attract visitors to the market, he said. “...We also thought with (plans for) additional parking spaces that the town is preparing for, some of the shuttle rides may not be needed.”
Town leaders in the process of planning a host of projects to improve parking around the historic district.
Those initiatives include adding on-street spaces to May River Road and Dr. Mellichamp Drive, installing time-restriction signage along the busy Calhoun Street corridor, and building a new public lot on a recently purchased plot of land on Boundary Street.
Viljac said market organizers “learned a lot from the trolley.”
“We’ve figured out what works and what doesn’t,” she said. “...And I still think (trolleys are) a valuable service that Bluffton might need someday.”