The Jolly Trolley is not likely to roll into Lewes in 2014.
Lewes Mayor and City Council rejected a quick implementation of the program during budget discussions Feb. 21.
“I feel like I'm chasing a greased pig, and they are very hard to catch. There are too many ifs and unknowns,” said Councilman Fred Beaufait. “At this point, I'm very uncomfortable. I see this as a cost to the city, and we don't have a good handle on the magnitude of that cost.”
Council chose to move forward, but budgeted no money for a trolley service. Discussion with the operator will continue, though, as council weighs its options in finding a solution to continued parking problems.
“Somewhere along the line there is going to be an expense to the city to address parking in some way,” said Mayor Jim Ford. That could come in the form of a partnership with the Jolly Trolley, creation of new parking spaces, acquisition of new land for parking, a parking garage or other ideas, he said.
“Any of that would certainly cost the city some funds,” he said.
Turner Hastings, co-owner of Transit U Inc., proposed the city partner with the Jolly Trolley for a four-stop fixed route that could transport visitors from the edge of city limits to the town's attractions on Second Street and Lewes Beach, with an additional stop at Beebe Healthcare. Hastings anticipates the program would cost the city $80,000 to $90,000 annually plus the cost to purchase a trolley. Rider fees and advertising on the trolley would offset some of the costs, but Hastings could not guarantee the endeavor would ever operate revenue neutral as he said it does in Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach.
Through his research, Hastings said, he has found fixed route mass transit systems nationwide recover 10 percent to 20 percent of its expenses.
“I know we can do better than that,” he said. “We're an excellent option because of our reputation and experience in what we do. I just can't promise that this would ever be completely off the city of Lewes' books.”
The proposed anchor point for the trolley route is Shields Elementary; however, no one from the city nor the Jolly Trolley has approached Cape Henlopen School District about use of its parking lot and any associated costs.
Councilwoman Bonnie Osler said the Historic Lewes Farmers Market, a nonprofit organization, is charged $100 for its five-hour operation on select Saturdays in the summer and fall.
Other avenues to explore, Ford said, are potential corporate sponsors, other partners and potential grants that could take some of the cost burden off the city's shoulders.
“In the interest of our responsibilities as stewards of public funds, we want to minimize the risk and exposure the city would have moving forward with this sort of agreement or partnership,” he said.
If the city were to come to an agreement with the Jolly Trolley, he said, the budget could be amended or reserve funds could be tapped to pay for the initial startup.
“I'm not shutting it out,” Beaufait said. “There's no question we have to do something, but I think we have a lot of homework to do before we can really get a solid handle on it.”