Despite ridership numbers that were not what officials hoped they would be, trolleys will run again on Hilton Head Island next year.
The Breeze will wrap up its first summer of service Oct. 14. Town and Palmetto Breeze officials call that initial season “a learning experience.”
Mary Lou Franzoni, the executive director of Palmetto Breeze transportation, offered these updates to the Public Planning Committee last week on the service’s first summer on the road:
- From July 16, when service began, to July 31, the 27-seat trolleys offered an average of 96 rides a day. The busiest days were July 24 and July 31, both Tuesdays when Shelter Cove Marina had a fireworks show. Rides were free during that period. She said trolley drivers kept track of the number of rides rather than the number of riders because riders can get on and off the trolley at a number of points along the route.
- In August, there were an average of 74 rides a day. A $1 fare kicked in Aug. 1, Franzoni said. The busiest day was Aug. 7, also a Tuesday with a fireworks show, when there were 269 rides.
- Ridership fell in September to an average 44 rides per day. Franzoni said Labor Day is the unofficial cut off for rides and summertime tourism to the island. Hurricane Florence and the possibility of an evacuation also affected trolley ridership, she said, although it was only closed on Sept. 11.
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Franzoni said that ridership was significantly lower than expected in the mornings from 9 a.m. until 12 p.m., and much higher in the evenings. She also said that ridership was lower than expected on Saturdays, likely because that’s change over day at the island’s resorts and rentals properties.
The planning committee was not “overwhelmed” by numbers, town council member Kim Linkins said.
Likins has suggested coordinating trolley service with cultural events such as musical shows and art displays. Both she and council member David Ames said they wanted the trolley to be more “experiential” for riders.
“It’s a wasted opportunity not to make it a memorable experience,” Ames said. “Because we’re a hospitality island, we should have a trolley ride that is memorable.”
Palmetto Breeze does not have a contract with the town for the trolleys because it is funded by a local grant that has to be renewed every year. While he could provide no figure specific to the trolley service, John Troyer, the director or finance for the town, said the town allocated about $200,000 overall to Palmetto Breeze, the transportation company that runs buses and the trolleys.
Franzoni said that half of that allocation is used for “urban services” including buses in the area municipalities and for the trolleys. The trolley also receives state and federal grants.
After the Oct. 14 closing, the trolleys will resume service in mid-March or early April 2019, according to Franzoni.
The trolleys will be stored at the Palmetto Breeze transportation facility in Bluffton until service starts again.