AUGUSTA — Ward 4 City Councilor Anna Blodgett wants the city to consider a trolley-style bus service that would connect state workers to the downtown and other places, allowing them to grab lunch or do some shopping without getting in their cars.

Blodgett said she’d like the city to consider, as part of the upcoming process of putting together next year’s city budget, purchasing something like a lightly-used 32-passenger trolley-style bus to run on a continuous loop with stops including the State House office complex, other state office buildings, the downtown area and locations such as Lithgow Public Library. She said it would help address a lack of public transportation in the city and encourage state workers to dine and shop downtown and at other sites in Augusta instead of staying in their offices or driving to neighboring Hallowell for lunch. She suggested seeing if the state would join the city as a partner in funding such a service, which could also charge a small fare for each ride given.

Other councilors also expressed interest and said state office workers and others doing business with the state, especially when the Legislature is in session and parking is tight, could be a captive audience tempted to use such a service.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” said Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti, an assistant attorney general who works at the State House complex. She said fellow state office workers “talk about how there are almost no places to go to eat within walking distance. And this time of year nobody wants to give up their parking space. If you leave, you may have to park miles away when you come back. I think a trolley would really facilitate that movement up and down the hill” to and from the city’s downtown Water Street area.

City Manager William Bridgeo said there seemed to be enough support for the idea among councilors that city staff should look into the idea. He suggested working with another entity already involved in transportation in the area, such as Kennebec Valley Community Action Program which runs the Kennebec Explorer regional bus service, and seeking data on the potential ridership to determine how much revenue such a service could bring in versus the cost of providing it.

The idea sprang from a discussion at Thursday’s Augusta City Council meeting about what to do with two 1994, 17-passenger trolley-style buses the city owns. Until they were both deemed unsafe and taken off the road around 2012, they were used to shuttle people around the city during special events four to six times a year, such as Fourth of July festivities.

Old Fort Western purchased the trolleys for $2,400 from state surplus in 2002 and gave them to the city in 2005 after fort officials decided they didn’t fit into their business plan.

City administrators had planned to try to sell the trolleys at auction, but Blodgett asked officials last year to look into whether one of the trolleys could be fixed and once again used by the city to provide rides.

The city staff estimated it would cost about $40,000 to get one of the trolleys back on the road in good, presentable condition. But they warned that whoever drives them would need a special endorsement for passenger vehicles on his or her driver’s license, and the city might not have any employees qualified to drive such a vehicle. They also noted the city could rent trolleys or continue, as it has done in recent years for the Fourth of July and the holiday tree lighting, to have two horse-drawn hay wagons on hand to provide rides at special events for $1,000 per event.

Councilors agreed by consensus Thursday they should give up on the idea of reusing the old trolleys due to the cost of refurbishing them and making them once again road worthy.

But Blodgett, Mayor David Rollins and other councilors expressed interest in looking into starting some sort of bus service that would run regularly and frequently on an in-town loop in Augusta. The general idea of the new bus run, councilors said, would be to provide better access to public transportation and an easy, affordable way for state workers and others at state office buildings to get to the city’s downtown and other areas of the city to get to restaurants for lunch, to go shopping, or to access services throughout the city.

Blodgett said a trolley-style bus would be better than a normal transit bus because it would have a more attractive, fun appearance to more effectively draw in riders. She said it would look like a trolley but be a year-round, closed-in vehicle.

Bridgeo said the city may go ahead and list for sale the two old trolleys, which each have about 130,000 miles on them, but may also hold onto them for now until the city looks at its options for potentially starting a new trolley bus service.

Scott Kenoyer, fleet manager, said when the time comes to dispose of the GMC trolleys, which have 454 big block motors in them, the city shouldn’t have a problem finding a buyer.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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