The Capital Area Transit System’s Garden District trolley rolled for the first time Monday, looping between downtown and the tree-lined neighborhood as the bus system tries to attract new riders.
CATS Chief Executive Officer Bob Mirabito envisioned the trolley as a way for some to commute downtown and for others to dine and shop around Perkins Road, Southdowns and downtown. People in the Garden District have seen the signs go up and are excited to use the trolley for both work and play, said Eric Troutman, Garden District Civic Association president.
The trolley runs every half hour from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and again from 3 p.m. until its last stop right before 10 p.m. on weekdays. Riders can hop on and off from 7 a.m. to the last drop off at 9:55 p.m. on Saturdays, when the trolley will run hourly. The Garden District trolley will not run on Sundays.
It will run from the Baton Rouge River Center to Park Boulevard and Government Street, then stop at City Park, Eugene Street and Broussard Street and Marigold Avenue and Stanford Avenue.
Mirabito said he did not expect the first day to indicate how successful the trolley will be, but he has heard excitement and interest from people living in the Garden District. He is hoping people will crowd onto the trolley cars come Friday, when the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge hosts its street party Laurel Street Palooza.
The trolley is part of a more-than-$1 million expansion in which CATS officials tried to reach out to new riders — those who will ride the bus system by choice rather than necessity. Service has not started on the two other routes approved with the Garden District trolley, which are a bus that will run between the CATS terminal and the LSU campus, and another running between Tigerland and downtown.
Mirabito held public input meetings in the fall for people who might ride the trolley or be affected by it sweeping through their streets. Troutman attended all of them and said the reaction was mostly positive.
CATS officials hoped the Garden District trolley would start service by the end of November 2014, but Baton Rouge Metro Council members delayed voting on the routes. Several council members were concerned about the safety of CATS buses downtown that linger in pedestrian-areas and fire zones. The Metro Council finally approved the routes in late November.
Mirabito said Garden District residents were upset when the plans were delayed, and he is interested in watching to see if the trolley is well-received during its first few days.
“There are several of our neighbors who already carpool or bike downtown to work so I know they’re interested in using the trolley to get them back and forth,” Troutman said.
In Troutman’s mind, the trolley is also a way to attract more residents to the Garden District. The neighborhood is already one of Baton Rouge’s most bike-friendly and pedestrian-friendly areas.
Still, Baton Rouge continues to be a sprawling city where driving is most people’s first option and public transportation often carries a negative connotation. When the trolley and other routes were first announced, Troutman predicted that many would have to shift their way of thinking to warm up to the idea.
He said many people now plan to give it a try.
“We’re excited for the potential of it,” Troutman said.