Turton Takes the Trolley

By Michael Turton

Before reporting on the challenges facing the Cold Spring trolley, I rode along on two of its five, one-hour routes.

On Saturday, July 6, I traveled the route from Cold Spring with stops at Manitoga on Route 9D, the Garrison train station and Magazzino Italian Art on Route 9. Four other riders joined me.

On Sunday, July 7, I rode from Cold Spring with stops at Magazzino, Beacon and at Breakneck Ridge. Fourteen others boarded along the way.

The weather was good on both days and the village was busy with visitors.

The view from inside the Cold Spring trolley (Photo by M. Turton)

Here are some observations and thoughts on possible improvements:

The trolley outdid Metro-North, arriving consistently on time at its stops. It was also squeaky clean, inside and out. The air conditioning was a welcome feature.

When the trolley pulled up to the Cold Spring bandstand, I watched people’s reactions on the dock. They often smiled; the trolley is appealing. But many people appeared puzzled. More than once along the route, someone stepped onboard, asked the driver to explain what the trolley was, and got off. Signage at key stops could help. No one boards a bus or train without knowing where it’s going.

Signs at key stops could also include QR codes that would allow smartphone users to access information about routes, times, attractions and dining.

When I boarded on Saturday, I handed the driver a $5 bill for my $1 senior fare but was told the drivers aren’t allowed to make change (bills or change must be inserted in a fare box). Fortunately, the driver bent the rules and broke my five with dollar bills from his wallet. There has been talk of developing an app that would enable riders to pay via their phone, a smart idea that should be pursued.

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

The trolley’s exterior is another missed opportunity. It’s a mobile billboard waiting to happen. Why not list stops and include a website address?

I expected to find the recently issued trolley brochure, map and schedule on board but it was nowhere to be found. It would be helpful, especially for visitors. A rack with brochures on attractions, events and eateries could also improve the experience.

Unlike trains, subways and city buses, there is no advertising inside the trolley. Ads would inform riders, boost businesses — and generate revenue. In addition, photos of attractions and their websites would be a simple add.

Along the route, a local radio station plays over the sound system. It adds nothing to the experience. Tour guides explaining local history and sights would make more sense. Volunteer guides have been discussed, but in a community already dependent on hard-to-find volunteers, why not have a recorded audio guide delivered on board or through phones?

Click to enlarge.

A lack of marketing, promotion and features as basic as signage have all contributed to significantly decreased ridership. The Cold Spring Area Chamber of Commerce is now lending its support, but in the end, the trolley is a Putnam County project. Since 2007, operating it has been the responsibility of the county Department of Planning, Development and Public Transportation. The Putnam County Visitors’ Bureau, which recently dissolved, was uninvolved, despite the trolley being one of the tourism industry’s most visible assets.

A large majority of the county’s tourist attractions are located west of the Taconic; most are along the trolley’s routes. As Putnam County sorts out its tourism dilemma, its leaders should ensure that any new entity is required to work with the transportation department to increase trolley ridership.

Better yet, the county ought to establish its tourism office on Main Street in Cold Spring, making it the last stop on every trolley run. The trolley, and tourism, might then get the attention they deserve.

4 thoughts on “Turton Takes the Trolley

  1. Another great bit of great journalism from Michael Turton that shows how once again, unlike the trolley driver, Putnam County officials are asleep at the wheel. All of Mike’s suggestions are first rate but I have little or no hope of ever seeing them implemented under the current leadership (or lack thereof) of the tourism agency.

    I have been reading the articles and looking at the budget documents that show that county taxpayers have contributed well over $200,000 toward “Putnam Tourism Promo Agency” plus the other money that came from state taxpayers. (Keep in mind that none of these agencies can print money so ultimately it all comes from us.)

    Yet it seems that nobody can figure out the most basic projects and ideas like the ones in this article. There is no creativity, no accountability, no responsiveness to the stakeholders. During the time that I’ve had my little shop on Main Street, I have seen how little support we actually get from the county despite the fact that they don’t share sales tax with the towns. Not that I want them to, but we surely deserve more in the way of services. Michael – keep up the good work.

  2. It is critical that riders have absolute trust that the trolley will be available to get back from their destination. The lack of information onboard and online – as well as a lack of marked stops — decreases confidence. No one wants to get stranded, so it is absolutely critical that riders have the information they need. The trolley schedule online at https://www.putnamcountyny.com/cold-spring-trolley-service-schedule/ is from 2016!

    Further, while I understand the desire to connect to Beacon buses, why is this Putnam County bus spending so much time up in Dutchess County? Rather than trying to make such an attenuated trip all the way to Dia:Beacon (which is accessible by train), more frequent loops or Friday service to local attractions might make the trolley more attractive.

  3. The trolley is not a component of any serious transportation system. It never was intended to be. It’s a prop.

    The trolley is an advertising vehicle to suggest to tourists the archaic and nostalgic charm of Cold Spring. The sales tax they generate goes back to the county, in part to fund the trolley. This keeps money in motion. And that’s how governments and economies work — in the modern era, it’s the only way they can work.

    Were this trolley any more user-friendly, reliable, sturdy looking or safe that would detract from its appeal. The number of riders is irrelevant. For all I know, the trolley serves its purpose admirably.

  4. Near the beginning of July, the Chestnut Ridge Neighborhood Watch distributed more than 60 maps and schedules to our residents. We were hoping to open an avenue of travel for our senior and/or disabled member, as one of the trolley stops is across the street at the Putnam History Museum.

    Never having taken the trolley myself, I climbed aboard on July 13 to be a tourist in my own village. Setting out at about 10:30 a.m., I spent the next seven hours visiting Magazzino Italian Art, lunching on the porch at Le Bouchon and doing a bit of shopping. In between, we popped in and out of Boscobel, Manitoga, etc., as the trolley followed its route.

    I was amazed at how extraordinary the scenery was (you miss that behind the wheel of a car) and the number of people with whom I chatted, including visitors from England and Los Angeles. One of the passengers lived at Forge Gate and takes the trolley every weekend.

    This is a wonderful resource but it is clouded by a number of things. Within moments of boarding, the driver advised I had an out-of-date schedule even though it was the June to November 2019 document culled from the internet. Information on both schedules about Metro-North train times was incorrect.

    The schedule is too tortuous to comprehend. Out-of-towners said they were confused as to where the trolley stopped because there are no signs, and information on websites like Boscobel’s was unclear. (Although I have heard complaints that the trolley ties up traffic, I never saw that in my day of travel.)

    The trolley needs to be front and center on many business websites. Trolley stop signs must be placed so the public knows where to board. Get our seniors and kids involved.

    I loved visiting my own town and applaud those who are trying to make such travel well-used, efficient and fun.