The Pierce Transit trolley system has brought small-town charm to Gig Harbor.
An upgraded version of a bus, the trolleys, which will carry passengers from downtown to Uptown every 30 minutes through September, are a joint effort designed to encourage tourism and alleviate congestion and parking concerns.
The trolleys are diesel vehicles designed to look like original trams. Pierce Transit leased two vehicles from South Carolina for the demonstration program. Their interiors are styled with wooden bench seats and gold poles.
Mike Severino, Pierce Transit safety and training manager, said 363 people rode the trolley on July 9, the first day of operation.
“Feedback from drivers is that it has been very busy,” Severino said.
During the first week, 2,082 people rode the trolley, said Justin Leighton, Pierce Transit government relations officer.
“It is increasing every day,” he said.
Passengers range from families who go on day outings, to people shopping for groceries, to tourists sightseeing. During the ride, drivers tell passengers historical facts about Gig Harbor and point out different sites.
“Yesterday, we rode it for shopping, and today was to the bakery,” said Sam Uber of Gig Harbor.
Uber and a friend rode the trolley with their children.
“It’s fun,” Uber said. “It is so much cheaper than gas.”
The trolleys will run until Sept. 28. If successful, Pierce Transit may use the model in other communities.
Gig Harbor was chosen because there appeared to be a need, and there were stakeholders willing to contribute, Pierce Transit CEO Lynne Griffith said.
“Gig Harbor has been talking about a circulatory trolley service for over 10 years,” she said.
With stakeholders willing to contribute, the rise in tourism during the summer months and the economy growing, it was a good time to try it out, said Warren Zimmerman, president of the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber initiated the project with economic development, Zimmerman said. At the same time, Pierce Transit was looking for a way to provide a better, unique service to communities with needs, he said.
Griffith pointed to downtown and the Uptown Gig Harbor Shopping Center as distinct parts of town.
“There is limited parking, and with the landscape, you have to go up hills to find alternative parking,” she said. “This is a deterrent, especially for seniors.”
Trolleys also may provide boaters a way to get from the water to grocery stores and other spots around town that would be difficult without a public transportation option, Zimmerman said.
“This provides the opportunity to move all around the community,” he said.
Trolleys run from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. with extended hours on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. There are stops with connections to alternative routes at the Park & Ride on Kimball Drive.
The fare is 25 cents for adults and youth ages 6 and older. Seniors, the disabled and children 5 and younger can ride for free. Passengers can use Orca cards by showing them to the driver.
The fare was set at 25 cents to encourage people to ride the trolley.
“That is a steal,” said Jan Angel, a state representative who sits on the Gig Harbor Chamber board. “Where else can you ride for that price?”
Pierce Transit expected the fare to be $2, Griffith said, but chamber members wanted to keep the fare low.
Zimmerman said the chamber, the City of Gig Harbor and Uptown merchants each contributed $10,000 to offset the cost and achieve a standard fare box recovery for Pierce Transit.
“That kicked everything off on a positive note,” Griffith said.
The project moved very quickly.
“It took about two months from idea to operation on the street,” Griffith said.
Stakeholders hope the trolley will be successful.
“Let’s hope it works, so it can continue,” Angel said.