Roanoke trolley sees steep drop in riders - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

Roanoke trolley sees steep drop in riders

ROANOKE -

You would be hard pressed to spend time in downtown Roanoke without seeing trolleys roam the streets.

Star Line Trolley runs throughout the city taking passengers from Carilion to downtown and back.

That helped draw Theresa Campbell to the trolley four years ago.

She works at Carilion and uses it to get lunch downtown weekly.

"It's very convenient because you don't have to worry about parking," Campbell said. "The trolley runs fast so I can usually do this within 30 minutes."

That speed is another appeal of the trolley.

During the weekday lunch rush (10-2 pm} it runs every eight minutes. Off hours it runs every 10-15 minutes.

But for all of the advantages of Star Line Trolley getting passengers on board is proving to be a problem.

From 2010 to June 2012 ridership dropped 26 percent.

Recently the problem is getting worse.

According to Roanoke City ridership dropped another 18 percent over the last seven months.

Those numbers are frustrating for Valley Metro General Manager Carl Palmer, the company that runs the trolley.

"I'm not particularly satisfied with that," Palmer said. "I need to bring it up to a point where we have established a pattern where we aren't losing, (we're) at least holding the line."

But the downward trend is also worrisome for the city, which is spending thousands of taxpayer dollars to keep the service running.

It costs about $100,000 per year to run the trolley with Carilion paying for half of it and Roanoke City and Downtown Roanoke Inc. splitting the other half.

In all it ends up costing Roanoke City taxpayers $26,000 per year.

Even with the cost and the drop in passengers, Roanoke Assistant City Manager Sherman Stovall said keeping the trolley is worthwhile.

"When you look at the service the trolley provides in terms of providing a connection from the medical center to the downtown core, certainly it still remains a good investment," he said.

Palmer believes putting more trolleys on the road would cut down on wait times and potentially draw in more passengers.

Since more trolleys mean more money, Palmer said that's unlikely.

But he added that improvements can be made.

"I just think we have to recast and market the service in a different context and a different light," Palmer said.

Stovall doesn't believe the trolley is in any danger of being discontinued, but the long term future will depend on passengers jumping aboard once again.

"We certainly remain hopeful (ridership) will improve," Stovall said. "But that remains to be seen."

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