Trolley Struggles to Get on Track

Ridership has steadily declined over the years

By Michael Turton

The Cold Spring trolley clanged its bell for the first time in 2007, shuttling passengers through the village and down to Garrison Landing. Since then it has logged more than 113,000 miles, almost exclusively on weekends, the equivalent of driving around the world more than four times.

The trolley runs on weekends; stops include the Cold Spring bandstand at the waterfront. (Photo by M. Turton)

But mileage isn’t the issue. Ridership is. In its inaugural season, late spring through fall, more than 8,000 people climbed aboard the dark green shuttle. By 2017, it served fewer than 800 passengers.

Nonetheless, Vinny Tamagna, who spearheaded the trolley initiative as a Putnam County legislator and now oversees it as Putnam County’s transportation manager, remains positive.

“There is something exciting, nostalgic about the trolley,” Tamagna recently explained, adding that it is worth the investment, which, he said, costs Putnam County relatively little. The county funds the trolley’s operating costs which have varied between $22,000 and $55,000 annually.

Putnam County also paid $25,000 toward the purchase of two trolleys in 2007. The bulk of the $250,000 cost was picked up by Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) which contributed $200,000 while New York state kicked in $25,000.

Tamagna is pinning hopes for improved ridership on increased involvement by the Cold Spring Area Chamber of Commerce and new routes that take in more cultural sites. Five weekend routes now link several local galleries and institutions, such as the Putnam History Museum, Boscobel, and Dia in Beacon, and include stops at Route 9D trailheads, train stations and key intersections.

Earlier this year, the Chamber of Commerce formed a Trolley Committee to work with Tamagna and his staff. The fledgling committee designed a logo and incorporated it in a new color brochure with a map and trolley schedule. The Chamber paid the printing costs.

The committee’s aim “is to make the trolley easier for everyone to ride,” including residents, Chamber President Eliza Starbuck, the co-owner of Flowercup Wine said this month. If the trolley is seen as an inexpensive and convenient form of transportation, “it can … benefit the local economy, environment, and quality of life.”

Starbuck said the committee advocates adding information signage at the trolley’s main stops as well as inside the vehicle, a move Tamagna is interested in exploring. At present, signage is virtually nonexistent, with the exception of an anti-heroin poster on the rear of the vehicle.

The Chamber also recently surveyed residents on their awareness of the trolley and its uses. Results have not been released yet.

To a degree, FTA rules hamper trolley operations. For example, while it doesn’t function as a typical county transit system bus, the trolley must abide by federal regulations geared to that type of transportation network. That’s why a second trolley had to be purchased, to ensure that a backup is always available — a questionable stipulation for a special-purpose vehicle such as the trolley.

A map of the trolley’s routes (click to enlarge)

Federal regulations also prohibit trolley drivers from handling money. As a result, riders must board with exact change. At a trolley committee meeting hosted by Magazzino this spring, the possibility of creating an app enabling riders to pay via smart phone was discussed but has not been developed yet.

Tamagna admits the trolley has not had strong ridership for several years. But the self-described optimist said that “with the involvement of the Chamber and linking sites such as Magazzino, Manitoga and Madam Brett Museum in Beacon, I think it will enjoy a renaissance.”

The trolley schedule (click to enlarge)

2 thoughts on “Trolley Struggles to Get on Track

  1. I believe the trolley should be free. It’s a perk to the thousands who travel on Metro-North to Cold Spring to experience and fall in love with our quaint little river town and all it has to offer. Riders could get around to the different attractions and boost local businesses. Exact change and paying to get back on the trolley on the return trip seems burdensome. A free trolley will definitely attract more riders.

  2. Visitors to all the areas that the trolley serves need to be aware of this service. It is a wonderful addition to the area and unfortunately it is being underserved.

    Maybe in the local stores a flyer could be posted as to the times and where to board the trolley as well as all the highlights. You could even get the kids from Garrison/Cold Spring and Beacon to create some of the flyers that would be placed in the stores. It could become an annual event and several would be chosen every year and printed and placed in the various stores.

    Since the drivers are not allowed to handle money then why don’t we have the local stores handle the sale of a rider’s ticket. This would encourage people to go into the store and more then likely they will end of buying some of their merchandise. It would be a win/win for both.

    Since many people come up from NYC on Metro-North maybe Vinny Tamagna could reach out to Metro-North to have an advertisement on the train posted about the Cold Spring/Garrison/Beacon areas of interest and how they can be reached by using the trolley. (There are always ads for Broadway shows.) If this is not possible then maybe somewhere when the riders get off the the train the Village of Cold Spring and the surrounding areas could put up a stand with a list of sites and events and the best way to get there (via the trolley) This could be a permanent structure which would be updated as needed.

    I believe that this is a function that could be a positive resource for the communities that it services and that maybe there needs to be a dedicated marketing committee to explore all the options.

    Many people come up on the train and simply walk up and down Main Street window shopping and checking in to eat at one of the restaurants. Maybe the areas need a catchy phrase. (There is more to Cold Spring then antic stores and restaurants — check out Garrison and Beacon)

    Hoping that the trolley service catches on and that ridership expands!