The first run of the pair of trolleys that will grace downtown Cape Coral for the next three months was kicked off with much fanfare Friday, complete with a police escort and city VIPs on the initial ride.
The trolleys took about 40 people, including Councilmember Dolores Bertolini, City Manager Terry Stewart, Cape Coral Community Redevelopment board members, and south Cape business owners, throughout the downtown and Yacht Club areas.
CRA officials and business owners are hoping the air-conditioned cars will be a hit with residents, enticing more people to the downtown area during the "off" season, when most snowbirds have flown back north for the summer.
Cape Coral resident Paul Prince walks off the Cape Coral Trolley during its first trip around the south Cape on Friday.
Friday commenced a three-month trial run for the trolleys, but they could enjoy an extended stay in Cape Coral if they prove popular with residents.
"I hope it keeps going not just through the summer but through the winter, too, so the tourists can take advantage of it," said Shelly Cranford, owner of Back Streets Sports Bar.
The trolley route generally takes passengers eastbound along Southeast 47th Terrace and westbound along Lafayette Street, making a detour to the Yacht Club area. It also features 21 stops at various businesses and downtown landmarks, including Big John's parking lot, Paesano's, and the Yacht Club.
The trolleys will run every half hour from 10 a.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
CRA board member Lou Simmons, who originally conceived the trolley idea, said the free-to-ride trolleys will help businesses more in the slower months.
"This is when we need it," Simmons said.
The CRA is paying about $73,000 for the trial run, but that expense only covers part of the route. The cost to trek through the Yacht Club area is being incurred by the trolley operator, Jody Perez, president of Trolley Enterprises, because the CRA cannot spend money outside of its boundaries.
"I'm doing that because of the restrictions the CRA has, but that's going to be an important part of the trolley," Perez said.
Rides are offered free of charge to passengers, and the CRA is hoping to offset the cost of the trolleys by offering advertising to businesses in the form of exclusive coupons.
Perez's company has trolley operations in communities all over the country, with many on the east coast of Florida in cities like Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, and Delray Beach, servicing 9 million passengers a year, according to its Web site, www.trolleyenterprises.com.
While the dour economic situation both locally and nationally casts doubt on any new venture, Perez said his operations have not been as heavily hit by the economic crisis, as people look for alternative transportation options.
In addition to operating trolleys, Trolley Enterprises also manufactures them. For the trial run, two diesel trolleys will be used, but for any possible extended run trolleys using alternative fuels will be used.
"We're looking at propane, natural gas, electric hybrid," Perez said.
Cape Coral's ample parking downtown may help the trolley's popularity among residents, and Perez is bringing in a marketing professional to promote the area's new amenity.
Businesses are hoping the trolleys will take hold.
"Everything that can be done to help we appreciate," Paesano's general manager Tony Minniti said.
"There hasn't been much (business) activity on the street in the last couple of years," he added.