Williamsburg’s public transportation is notorious for being unpredictable and unreliable. Often, students at the College of William and Mary are forced to wait too long for a bus that doesn’t show.
“I lived in Ludwell and used to rush to get to the bus stop early in the morning. I waited half an hour and it never came,” said Hannah Debelius ’10.
Now, the city of Williamsburg is offering an additional mode of transportation. The Williamsburg Trolley, a bus painted to look like a trolley, aims to please tourists, Williamsburg residents and students alike. With the new trolley, not only will students have another option for free transportation, but they will also arrive in style.
Jimmy Garris, a driver for the Williamsburg Area Transit Authority, usually drives the late-night shift for the Green Line bus. He now navigates the new trolley during the day.
“We are now crossing Duke of Gloucester Street, nicknamed DoG Street. It runs a mile from South Boundary to the Capitol Building,” Garris said over a loudspeaker, tooting the old-fashined horn. Pedestrians watch as the red and green trolley passes, and Garris waves.
Since its opening Aug. 20 the trolley is now the city’s least-expensive public transportation method. A ride costs fifty cents for adults, compared to $1.25 for regular WATA buses, and is free of charge for students of the College and James City County middle and high schools. The trolley loops around town traveling from Merchant’s Square to High Street to New Town, stopping near Blow Memorial Hall, the Williamsburg Shopping Center, the Movie Tavern and Discovery Park. It blends cost-effective transportation with historical trivia about the area for tourists.
According to Garris, the trolley offers convenient services for those in Williamsburg including a way to get to shopping areas. “[And locals] don’t have to fight for a parking space,” he said.
Mark D. Rickards, executive director of WATA, believes that the trolley will be a good investment for the community.
The trolley aims to offer a more enjoyable ride experience than the WATA buses. On hot days the windows of the trolley can be opened and passengers can feel the breeze as they make their way through town, though like the WATA buses, the trolley also provides air conditioning. Garris said that it is the sentimental value that separates the trolley from typical Williamsburg transportation — the trolley is a tribute to more glamorous public transportation. Its outer appearance evokes the image of turn-of-the-century San Francisco trolleys, and its interior of wooden benches, golden bells and glowing spheres of light make riders forget they are on a glorified bus.
According to Garris, it is also handicap-accessible and has a bike rack on the front.
Sometimes during the ride, drivers point out interesting facts about Colonial Williamsburg and describe popular Williamsburg locations. As Garris drives through High Street, he anounces that the shopping and residential district “is one of the newest developments in town.”
Michelle Arbid ’09, is one of many students who have utilized the free trolley service.
“I had a great experience riding the trolley,” she said. “The driver was a super sweet lady who waited when she saw me and my friends running to catch up to her. I could’ve taken the bus, but the bus comes every hour while the trolley comes every fifteen minutes, which is way more convenient.”
“I liked the old-fashioned feel,” Blair Lunceford ’13 said. “When I was a kid, my family and I would go to the Houston Zoo and ride trains that also had wooden seats. Riding the trolley made me reminisce of my childhood.”
Despite its sentimental touches, the trolley is not always be the best alternative to the WATA buses when taking into account one’s schedule.
“One thing I hate is that it only runs after three,” Arbid said.
The trolley only operates after 3 p.m. weekdays and Saturdays, while the WATA buses begin operating at 6 a.m. However, the trolley runs fairly late for a transportation geared toward tourists, operating until 10 p.m. from Monday through Thursday and until 11 p.m. on weekends. It also operates from noon to 8 p.m. on Sundays — a service that the regular WATA bus lines do not provide.
Moreover, the trolley’s stops are placed at strategic points to ease transfers to the WATA bus lines and the Colonial Williamsburg buses. Garris said that there is even talk of adding a trolley route that extends to by Trader Joe’s on Settlers Market Boulevard.
“The trolley has been talked about for almost a decade and to see that idea become a reality and to be so successful with students and others makes me very happy,” Clyde Haulman, vice mayor of Williamsburg and chair of the economics department at the College, said. “It gets people out of their cars, provides easy access to shopping and entertainment for students, and is the type of service environmentally aware cities should be providing.”