Trolley committee mulls over strategy for service

News Photo by Jason Ogden The Thunder Bay Transportation Authority trolley committee, left to right, Operations Manager Andrew Sundin, Trustee Adam Poll, Trustee Daryl Peterson and Trustee Jeff Kowalski, met Tuesday to discuss the future of the system in Alpena.

ALPENA — The Thunder Bay Transportation Authority’s trolley committee will recommend to the full board that the city’s diesel/electric trolley service will run regular summer hours until at least October.

The committee met Tuesday to discuss the future of the service and come up with the recommendation for the service, which is costing the agency money and not making a profit.

Operations Manager Andrew Sundin said the recommendation will be to continue the service at full capacity until the end of October. Additionally he said he is going to schedule a meeting with MDOT officials to discuss what could be done with the trolleys.

Ideas from selling the units, not using them at all, or getting rid of them through Michigan vehicle Lemon Laws, have been discussed.

Sundin told the committee, comprised of Trustees Jeff Kowalski, Daryl Peterson and Adam Poll, that MDOT officials are working on several options for TBTA but have yet to tell the agency what they could be.

Another option Sundin discussed would be to shelve the trolleys but continue running the routes using regular TBTA buses until a solution could be found.

According to Peterson the service expended more than $60,000 after warranty work, and only had a ridership in August of just over 600 passengers.

Sundin estimated it would take around 5,000 riders a month for the service to break even. Part of the meeting was an opportunity for the public to weigh in on the service and what improvements could be made. This included trolley driver Dan Tibbles who said he thought TBTA should continue to give the service a chance.

“I was one of those who was recruited and trained to drive the trolley, completing our second summer. It’s easy to get discouraged by mechanical problems but we have a segment of our society that really needs this service,” he said.

Tibbles went on to say he thought the service was not well promoted and suggested that areas be papered with flyers so more riders will use the service, including an area that has many apartment complexes in the vicinity.

He also suggested that by riding the trolley and utilizing some businesses, the businesses could give bonuses in the form of discounts to the riders.

Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Director Jim Klarich said from his standpoint there were two distinct customer types for the service, locals and tourists, and the service should be marketed to one or another.

Klarich suggested there be straight-line routes instead of a circle route to maximize the number of people who could use the service.

A rider in attendance said the system was good, but there should be more trolleys going in different directions so people did not have to spend more than an hour on the ride.

Sundin said because of the mechanical limitations of the prototype machines, it made it hard to do that.

“The trolleys are going to get five or six hours of battery life,” he said. “When we were having these built we were promised that it was nine to 10 hours of battery life.”

Chamber President/CEO Jackie Krawczak said even when TBTA brainstormed with the chamber on marketing ideas those ideas were not implemented.

“I don’t think that we saw any of those come to fruition. You can’t try something once and say whether it worked or not,” she said. “You have $60,000 in debt, you’re at the end of it to say it’s not working, but there were options that were not tried, is it too late to try those things?”

Peterson said he would be against hiring a consultant to see whether the service is viable.

“You hire these people who think they know it all, and you try and find out they’ve soaked you for tens of thousands of dollars and you’re not better off,” he said.

Kowalski said it was not feasible to shut down the service because TBTA would incur penalties from MDOT on future funding opportunities.

Jason Ogden can be reached via email at jogden@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Jason on Twitter @jo_alpenanews.