Green machine: New trolley hits the streets


Anyone watching the free trolleys since last week might wonder if there's been any supervision in the Charlottesville Transit depot when the sun goes down and the buses go home to roost each night. Otherwise, how to explain the appearance on Thursday, September 18, of what certainly seems to be the love child of a city bus and an old fashioned trolley?

Simmer down, you gossip mongers! According to Charlottesville Transit Manager Bill Watterson, there's no scandal here, and the fancy new trolley wasn't left wailing in a giant basket on his doorstep. In fact the city "adopted" the new vehicle for $330,000 to add to its aging fleet of four trolleys, the oldest two of which date to 2000. Trolleys, says Watterson, have a 10-year life expectancy according to federal guidelines, so the transit department is preparing to purchase a new generation over the next several years. Watterson says state and federal funds paid about $280,000 of the new trolley's cost, leaving just $50,000 for the city to cough up.

A standard city bus costs about $270,000, as do the old fashioned trolleys, so why the new style?

"We wanted to retain the look, but wanted a low floor vehicle" for improved handicapped access, explains Watterson. The existing four trolleys all have stairwells, which makes getting on and off difficult for some passengers, particularly older ones or mothers with very young children.

The free trolley has successfully built ridership over the last several years, Watterson says, going from 486,000 passenger boardings in fiscal year 2004-2005 to 560,000 passenger boardings last year. This year, he says, the number will likely be even higher.

As for the new trolley, you can catch it proudly traveling along the same route as all the other trolleys– it's neither afraid, ashamed, nor misunderstood!



they only last 10 years? how is that possible? what happens after that?

How is it possible that they last only 10 years? That can be answered with another question: How is it possible that they last that long?

Would your car last 10 years, if you drove it all day long, and well into the evening, 7 days a week, at speeds never to exceed 25 mpg, pulling over every few blocks to let someone out and someone new in?

What happens after that? They are replaced. With new trolleys. Like the one in the article.

The old ones were shaken to pieces two years ago when I last regularly rode them. The engines themselves would probably run another 10 years, but the rest of the bus is the issue.

I imagine that fathers (not to mention nannies, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends) had similar problems with young children. Or are back in the 1950's?

I used to drive buses for UVA, and I can tell you that back then (3+ years ago), our buses we designed to last 20 years, but they didn't always make it.

And I agree that the old trolleys were poorly designed. The slick seats made it hard to stay in your seat--no fun when you're trying to read The Hook.

Jim: Right you are! Apparently I got sucked into a minor time warp but have, fortunately, returned with my 21st century sensibilities intact. *Anyone* traveling with small children might have difficulty maneuvering the steps.

While this article might be about one bus in particular, all I see on the city streets now are brand new transit buses. How much did the city have to cough up to purchase all the new buses?

I can hardly wait to see my tax assessment go up another 10% to 12% this year. Even though my residence is already appraised at $50,000 more than I can sell it for today.