As locals, tourists and history buffs hop on the Yorktown trolley this summer, they’ll be taking part in a tradition that has spanned two decades.
Yorktown’s free trolley celebrates its 20th anniversary season this year by providing rides to more guests than ever.
When the program began in 2000, local officials were simply looking for a mode of transportation that would connect major points of interest in the area, said Darren Williams, waterfront operations supervisor in the Tourism Office.
Officials decided that time the trolley would be free for guests to provide a welcoming and encouraging experience.
“We really wanted to create an environment that attracted people to our location to drive economic development,” Williams said.
The trolley has become a staple of the area since then.
Williams said it matched the “theme” of Yorktown which hosts approximately 75 events every year, many of which are free.
“It’s grown into an attraction itself now,” Williams said. “We have some great drivers well-versed in historic Yorktown and the attraction itself—some people ride the trolley around just to hear the history of the town.”
The trolley served just 13,000 in its first year of operation.
There were 95,000 passengers last year.
Williams said not only does that make the trolley a popular attraction, but it also means that’s 95,000 people who didn’t drive their cars which creates less of a carbon footprint for the area.
Joshua Green, York County’s fleet manager, said the trolley system has also grown and adapted to modern technology over the years. Most recently, the trolleys were equipped with new Automatic Passenger Counters that give a more accurate count not only of how many people are riding, but at what times and where.
There’s a live mobile tracking system that allows riders to track the trolley’s route in real time and includes pictures of the stops and amenities near them, Williams said. There is also a new “info-tainment” system that plays geo-specific media so as riders approach a particular attraction, there might be a video or other form of media to highlight it.
This past year a new pilot program started with interpretive programming. The trolley featured a special visit from Santa and a string group performing holiday music. Williams said there are currently discussions to grow the programming by featuring historical interpreters potentially.
“We’re really trying to expand and highlight more of the history in the area,” Williams said. “We really want to incorporate all those individual aspects that make Yorktown unique.” (Story continues below the video)
Currently the trolley system includes four cars, with a fifth car on the way, that run on a loop of a few miles each trip.
Green said the trolleys are about $350,000 to purchase and then cost about $20,000 each year to maintain. Yorktown is able to maintain the trolley as a free public service thanks to a number of federal grants and local funding.
As the local community remembers 20 years of the free trolley system, the service will continue to update and find ways to connect with riders.
“We want to have the capability of actually interacting with riders on a day-to-day basis,” Green said. “It’s a part of the community.”