Visitors to downtown Pensacola could be able to park and ride later this month, thanks to six new electric trolleys from Gulf Island National Seashore.
With the park’s ferry service in limbo the new electric trolleys, each consisting of motor and trailer units, are being loaned to the City of Pensacola. Each vehicle can hold 27 passengers.
“Since the ferry service has been delayed a year, until spring 2018, we didn’t want those trams to just sit there unutilized. So we did reach out to the City of Pensacola, to see if they might have a need or an interest,” said Gulf Islands National Seashore Director, Dan Brown.
There will be no charge by the park for the city’s use of the vehicles, but Brown says nothing is completely free.
“Obviously, they would have to be operated and maintained and recharged on a regular basis,” Brown said. “So there are costs associated in operating it. But in terms of our making them available to the city, there would be no cost for that.”
“We’re excited about this, simply because this is the right time, right place, and certainly meets the needs and expectations of people that are visiting and living in downtown,” says Curt Morse, Executive Director of the Downtown Improvement Board.
Target date for the vehicles to hit the road is around the last of this month and the first of June.
“We’re ambitious; it seem like we’re always chasing deadlines around here, but it’s good for everyone concerned,” said Morse. “Our goal was Memorial Day; that’s what we’re working toward. And anything immediately after that will categorically say it’s still a success.”
This trolley service mirrors a pilot program last fall, which used full-sized trolleys borrowed from Escambia County Area Transit that served Pensacola Beach, to canvass the 39 blocks making up downtown Pensacola. That service drew about 4,000 riders and opened up some doors.
“In the winter months those don’t run, so it was a natural [to] see if the program could generate some interest and start to build some behavior,” said Morse. “We learned a lot by looking anecdotally at the utilization, and then the hard numbers afterwards and realize, ‘look – there is a need here, and we can fill the need.’”
But DIB is not going this alone. Morse says a number of agencies, public and private, and tossing in.
“The City of Pensacola most certainly, from their ability to identify grant opportunities, as well as the Port of Pensacola as a potential parking, storage and charging center for the trams,” Morse said. “ECAT as the management and driving component of this; and of course, the DIB.”
Gulf Island’s loan of its trolleys is not breaking any new ground. Director Dan Brown says national parks’ entrance into agreements with adjacent governments is commonplace, including theirs.
“We already do that with Escambia County for lifeguard services at Fort Pickens and Johnson Beach,” said Brown. “We pay them and provide some of our equipment to accomplish that service.”
Once the ferry service is up and running next year, the trolleys will return to Gulf Island National Seashore – where they’ll carry passengers on a six-mile route between Fort Pickens and Langdon Beach.