The new, larger Bethany Beach trolley arrived last Thursday smelling of freshly sanded oak. The interior sparkled with untarnished brass handrails and the exterior gleamed with a pristine coat of paint.
The bus made its maiden voyage Tuesday. Three trolley drivers — Willie Ventro, Donnie Donaway and Julie Jones — tested the route, making adjustments where necessary. The public intends to initiate the itinerant $100,000-plus investment Saturday, when full-time summer shuttle service begins. The trolleys then will run 7 days a week, starting at 9:30 a.m. and concluding at 10 p.m., through Labor Day.
Replacing an older, smaller vehicle, the 13-bench mint model will expand the route’s maximum capacity from 25 commuters to 55, according to Barry English, Bethany’s code enforcement officer.
The smaller trolley will be used to supplement service and trim waiting times. Each loop takes nearly an hour to complete, so the original shuttle will follow a half-hour behind its younger-and-bigger counterpart on Wednesday nights, when bandstand performances on the Bethany boardwalk are common occurrences, and on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
The shuttle schedule comprises 14 stops: Lake Bethany, entrance; Turtle Walk, entrance; Bethany West, Halfmoon Drive and tennis court; Bethany West, Collins Street and Fairway Drive; Kent Avenue, South Coastal Library; Bethany Proper, Kent Avenue and Maplewood Drive; Atlantic Avenue and Ashwood Street; Atlantic Avenue and Wellington Parkway; Atlantic Avenue and Garfield Parkway; Atlantic Avenue and First Street; Atlantic Avenue and Ocean View Parkway; Canal Development, Ocean View Parkway and Sandpiper Drive; Second Street and Tingle Avenue; Villas of Bethany West, poolside.
Pedestrians and passengers can also stop buses for pick-ups or drop-offs along the line, except on Routes 1 and 26.
Jones, who was behind the wheel of the smaller bus during the Memorial Day weekend, said the shuttle is more than a mode of transportation.
“It gets you to know the residents. It’s not only the tourists that ride but also the locals,” the Bethany resident and first-year driver said. “Some people get on just to go for a ride and to see what has changed in the community.”
Town officials expect the service, which costs 25 cents per ride, to run in red ink. A full tank of gas for the larger coach costs about $200 alone. Revenue from parking meters, not taxpayer dollars, according to English, will be used to balance the shuttle’s budget. And Bethany Beach is happy to take cash out of its coffers in order to take cars off of its streets.
“We lost money on that trolley last year,” English said. “That’s not the idea of it. The idea of it is to limit congestion.”
Business owners in downtown Bethany applaud the move to mitigate the fight for parking spaces.
“I think it’s long past due,” said Mickey Bailey, owner of the Surf’s Up Subs. “If it helps move people in and out of town and alleviates the need to drive around to find parking, I’m for it.”
Tom Lannon, general manager at Mango Mike’s concurs.
“I think [the shuttle service] is one of the best things to hit the town because of parking,” he said. “It definitely helps businesses out. One of the biggest problems our customers have is having to run out in the middle of dinner to put more quarters in the meters.”
Erika Bush, from Wilmington, with a summerhouse in Bay Colony, said the traffic keeps her away from the boardwalk during the peak tourist season. Bush said her daughter, Lydia White, who vacations from Harrisburg, Penn., gets to the beach by 9 a.m. and leaves by noon to avoid the rush.
To further facilitate a visitor-friendly environment, Town Hall traded the old change stand for a more aesthetically pleasing version. The new dollar-breaking booth, resembling the trolleys and situated on the Garfield Parkway median in front of the police station, began operating last weekend.
Aside from more space, the upgraded trolley, purchased from Trolley Enterprises in Deerfield, Fla., will boast several features that were unavailable on the original, including a diesel-fuel engine and a mechanical wheelchair lift. The familiar yellow and baby blue logo and open-air windows, however, remain the same.
This marks the third year Bethany Beach will operate its own trolley service after assuming the responsibility from a private contractor.