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.
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’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?
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.