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The Business of Tourism
New Gig Harbor trolley caters to tourists, locals

Pierce Transit is operating a trolley service this summer in Gig Harbor with support from the city and local businesses and organizations.It took several public and private-sector attempts and more than a decade, but Gig Harbor finally got its trolley service. Pierce Transit launched a pilot project in July with a daily route connecting the westside shopping area with downtown.

Pierce Transit, with the help of several community investors, achieved a version of what many others have tried over the years, including a previous mayor, the City Council and at least one private entity. The public transit agency got help, too — the city, the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce and Uptown Gig Harbor (through its merchants) each contributed $10,000 and the Gig Harbor Downtown Waterfront Alliance another $5,000 to get the trolley demonstration project off the ground. Another $6,000 in pledges is being solicited to meet the goal of $41,000.

The so-called PT Trolley — Get Around Gig Harbor is targeted both at visitors and locals, thanks in part to its nostalgic feel. Not only does the trolley bring back the look of yesteryear, it only costs only 25 cents per trip and comes complete with a specially uniformed “conductor” who announces the stops.

While Pierce Transit is funding the bulk of the cost, the service had to be heavily subsidized in order to keep fares low, said Derek Young, a Gig Harbor city councilman and Pierce Transit board member.

“We wanted people to try it out and we wanted to remove barriers so the decision was made to keep fares low,” he said. “It had to be heavily subsidized to make it work.”

Last fall, voters turned down a Pierce Transit ballot measure that would have imposed a tax to help pay for existing services. As a result, the struggling agency has to implement a variety of cuts to its routes and service times, including in Gig Harbor, effective in September.

Young, who’s in his 16th year as a councilman and represents several cities on the transit board, said this project is part of the new Pierce Transit board of directors’ strategic direction.

“We decided we can’t continue doing business like this, especially with all the cuts. So the directors challenged themselves to look at new ways to provide things like circulators,” he said. “The reason Gig Harbor was picked for the pilot is because we’ve been talking about it for a very long time and because of the partners stepping up.”

The trolley, which runs every 30 minutes, has extended hours on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and will operate through Sept. 28. One hope is to help reduce downtown congestion and parking shortages (on Tuesday evenings in the summer, downtown can be especially challenging to navigate due to the popular concert series at Skansie Brothers Park). The trolley also allows pets — catering to Gig Harbor’s dog-friendly atmosphere — and has space for bicycles.

Within the first few days of the route kick-off, locals and boaters alike were taking advantage of the ride.

“Some boaters came in and were ecstatic to have the trolley,” said Mary DesMarais, executive director of the Gig Harbor Downtown Waterfront Alliance. “I think it will be a really good service for the tourists but also for locals.” She said the downtown merchants were excited about the route and saw it as a way to get people to explore additional areas of the waterfront.

Having a service like the trolley helps the city avoid the need for additional infrastructure like parking, Young said, but the visitor aspect is also a major driver.

“This is about connecting visitors to different parts of town. If you can have them stay even an hour longer, that translates into them spending money at the local businesses,” Young said.

Two old-style trolley chasses on wheels serve as the route runners (the transit is leasing them through September) and two buses, painted like the trolleys, are on standby as backup. If the board decides to bring the route back next year, Pierce Transit would roll it into its regular service (currently the fare isn’t connected to the ORCA transit card) and consider purchasing vehicles. An evaluation process will help determine the project’s success based on results such as ridership and impact on merchants.

“If it is successful, we’ll bring it back as an annual seasonal service,” Young said. “If it doesn’t work, we’ll think of something else for Gig Harbor.”

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