Originally published Nov. 18, this article has been updated with additional information provided by City of Edmonds Community and Economic Development Director Patrick Doherty. Doherty is the designated City of Edmonds staff support officer to the Edmonds Downtown Alliance, and the City of Edmonds representative to the Citizens Economic Development Commission, both of which have a direct interest in the trolley proposal
Among the many items that the Edmonds City Council will consider over the next few weeks during budget deliberations is a proposal to purchase and operate a trolley. The idea is to provide trolley service during the holiday season and on summer market days, and the budget proposal asks the council to authorize $75,000 for this purpose.
According to Community Services and Economic Development Director Patrick Doherty the idea started early this year when Edmonds Downtown Alliance (Ed!) <http://edmondsdowntown.org/> contacted Emerald City Trolley about reserving a trolley during the upcoming holiday season. Ed! has contracted with Emerald City to provide a vintage trolley during the holidays since 2014, with the goal of providing a special festive transportation touch for residents and visitors during the downtown Edmonds shopping season. Since the outset Ed! has served as lead in this effort and arranged sponsors to help cover the cost of trolley service.
“I was somewhat shocked to learn (from Ed!) that Emerald City was considering getting out of the trolley business completely, and that they advised to call again in a few weeks to get the final word,” Doherty explained.
As part of his responsibilities as Edmonds Community Services and Economic Development Director, Doherty is the City of Edmonds support officer with Ed! and in this capacity works closely with them. “I feel very involved with Ed!,” he said. What’s more, Doherty has an additional role as city staff to the Citizens Economic Development Commission (EDC) <http://www.edmondswa.gov/economic-development-15.html>, which, on a separate but parallel track, has identified a downtown-waterfront shuttle as a desirable item, adding it in 2013 as an action item in the Council-approved the Strategic Action Plan < <http://www.edmondswa.gov/strategic-plan.html>.
“When I contacted Emerald City Trolley some weeks later, a company official confirmed that they are indeed getting out and would not be able to contract with Edmonds for holiday trolley service this year,” he continued. “We were just about to get off the phone when the representative added as an aside, ‘you wouldn’t be interested in buying the trolley, would you?’”
While his first reaction was along the lines of “ha ha, great,” Doherty began thinking about the prospect of Edmonds actually owning and operating its own trolley, to run not only during the holidays, but also during the summer market season. He reported back to the Ed! board, who agreed it was worth thinking about. However, before moving ahead with a budget proposal, all agreed that a pilot run would be needed to test the concept.
Within a few days Doherty (again in his capacity as City support officer to Ed!) got back to Emerald City Trolley and the company agreed — even though it was shutting down this phase of the operation — to provide Edmonds with service for pilot run during the five-weekend month of August. But this left unanswered the question of holiday service for 2019. Taking the lead, Ed! found and contracted with Jolly Trolley of San Juan Island to provide holiday service again this year. It will run on four Saturdays — Dec. 14, 21 and 28, plus Jan. 4, Doherty said.
“For the summer pilot we set up a five-stop route connecting the Edmonds Theater, the Port Building on the waterfront, Salish Crossing, Walnut Coffee and the Salish Sea Brewery,” Doherty explained.
Taking 25 minutes to complete, the circuit provided easy access to downtown and the waterfront. While no tally was made of the precise number of riders, Doherty said that according to the drivers the service was well-utilized. The port building on the waterfront quickly became the most popular stop as downtown visitors took the opportunity to visit Edmonds parks, beaches and waterfront businesses without the hassle of finding another parking spot.
Doherty added that this summer pilot project provided new impetus to the EDC’s aforementioned long-standing desire to explore the idea. As part of this, commissioners made summer visits to Port Townsend to observe that city’s on-demand, jitney-style trolley, and Gig Harbor to see the city’s three-vehicle shuttle system that connects the waterfront, downtown and the major big-box store shopping area.
In addition, during the pilot project, city mechanics inspected the Emerald City trolley vehicle and reported that while it is “vintage” and has some wear in the woodwork, it had no major mechanical issues.
“By the end of August with the pilot run and visits to other jurisdictions under our belts and a clear report from our mechanics, the notion had gained sufficient traction to move on,” Doherty said. “Accordingly, we recommended a budget item authorizing us to pursue purchasing and running a trolley. The $75,000 request includes $50,000 to purchase a vehicle and $25,000 to operate it for a year including fuel, maintenance and a driver.”
Doherty also clarified that the current proposal before council is to pursue the purchase and operation of a trolley, not necessarily the vehicle currently owned by Emerald City Trolley. If approved, the city would be in the market for a trolley and would seek out the best available vehicle for meeting Edmonds’ needs.
Doherty went on to explain that the proposal is for the trolley to operate weekends during market season (late May to early October) and then during the holidays, comprising approximately 52 days total for the year. It would be stored in the city facility at Second and Dayton.
According to Doherty Ed! is working to explore pledges, sponsorship and other approaches to help defray costs. He also reports that the city’s Lodging Tax Advisory Committee has already recommended putting $20,000 toward the trolley.
“That action drops the projected hit to the city’s general fund to $55,000,” he said. “I also think we have a good chance for additional partnerships that could drive the city’s costs down even further.”
Looking toward the future, Doherty acknowledged the interest from several quarters in having trolley service be part of addressing the downtown parking situation, but cautioned that this would be further down the road.
“With a single vehicle we need to keep the route short enough that folks aren’t having to wait an hour for the trolley,” he said. “For the present, we’re looking at moving visitors and shoppers around the downtown and waterfront areas in a fun way that enhances their enjoyment of our town. But who knows what the future might hold?
The city council could be talking about the trolley proposal as soon as this week, leading up to budget approval in December.
— By Larry Vogel