Public transit was the topic of the day at the Lewes Business District Parking Committee meeting Aug. 7.
Representatives from DART, Delaware River and Bay Authority and the Jolly Trolley each made a presentation outlining their services. The committee is not seeking formal changes to the public transportation system, but used the presentations as background moving forward.
DART altered its Lewes route this summer and no longer travels down Second Street for a stop at Market Street, near King’s Ice Cream. Instead, once the bus leaves the Park and Ride on Route 1 near Five Points and heads into town, the only downtown stop eastbound is at the Zwaanendael Museum, said Bill Thatcher, deputy chief operating officer for DART. The bus then heads over the canal drawbridge for a stop near the Daily Market. It next stops near the Dairy Queen, heads to the Cape May-Lewes Ferry where it turns around and leaves town the way it came in.
On the way out of town, there is no official stop near downtown after the Daily Market. The next official stop is Beebe Healthcare, several blocks from Second Street. There is, however, a flag stop between The Buttery and Heirloom, where a driver may stop if a rider waves them down. Flag stops are considered temporary, and drivers are not required to stop. Thatcher said he hopes to find a place to put a permanent stop in that area in the future.
DART does not offer an express bus to Lewes Beach.
Thatcher said DART adjusts its schedule twice a year based on ridership and demand.
“We try to find the most convenient places for stops, but we have to deal with a homeowner or a business owner,” he said, noting that is not always easy.
The new Lewes Park and Ride has 240 parking spaces, he said. It’s only full during Fourth of July, but, he said, they are continuing to see use increase. Ridership, in general, is up 25 percent over last year, he said.
Heath Gehrke, director of operations at the ferry, said DRBA also altered its route this summer in response to the changes with DART’s routes. DRBA’s buses now only travel to the Tanger Outlets and to the Rehoboth Beach Park and Ride because ferry riders can take a DART bus from the ferry terminal into Lewes and to the Lewes Park and Ride.
“We don’t want to duplicate service,” Gehrke said.
DRBA has three shuttles – a 33-passenger trolley and two 27-passenger buses.
The ferry terminal has a parking lot of 375 spaces for foot passengers. Gehrke said the ferry lot can easily fit at least two times that many if they max out parking in grass strips and use the ferry loading area, as they did for the Fourth of July fireworks this year.
He said there is a master plan that calls for expanded parking, and more spaces could be added in the next few years.
The Jolly Trolley offers no services in Lewes; the company and Lewes officials discussed it several years ago, but the city opted to move in another direction. Co-owner Christine Hastings laid out how the Jolly Trolley works in Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach and how it would have to work in Lewes to be successful.
Hastings said they have two trolleys that hold 44 people with some room for people to stand. They also have buses with capacity for 26 and 30 passengers.
Hastings said a successful program in Lewes would require at least two trolleys, if not three or more. She said extra vehicles allow for flexibility when vehicles are unavailable due to maintenance issues.
Jolley Trolley has operated since 1991 and has a state license to operate a fixed-route service.
She said shuttle and jitney services will only be successful if people want to use them. Traffic and congestion are a constant headache, she said.
“People will not use your service if it’s inconvenient,” she said. “If people can literally walk by your vehicle as you’re stuck in traffic, that is such a turn off.”
Fourth of July is no where near their best day or weekend, she said, because their vehicles are stuck in traffic. She said it’s nobody’s fault because everyone wants to be at the same place at the same time.
“Unfortunately in our country, mass transit isn’t a popular item,” she said. “It’s there. People scream for it, but as far as actually using it … People want to drive their own cars.”
The committee will meet again at 8:30 a.m., Monday, Aug. 20, at city hall. The topics of discussion include replacement of the parking meters, expansion of the parking meter areas and concerns related to parking in the downtown residential district.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct date of the next meeting, Monday, Aug. 20, at city hall.