Molly the Trolley, the downtown shuttle, will no longer be a free service starting Sunday. With yearly operating costs in the $1 million range, the Fort Worth Transportation Authority will now charge $2 per rider. Paul Moseley pmoseley@star-telegram.com
Molly the Trolley, the downtown shuttle, will no longer be a free service starting Sunday. With yearly operating costs in the $1 million range, the Fort Worth Transportation Authority will now charge $2 per rider. Paul Moseley pmoseley@star-telegram.com

Bud Kennedy

In Fort Worth, it’s the end of the line for free ‘trolley’ shuttle rides

By Bud Kennedy

bud@star-telegram.com

August 11, 2017 5:35 PM

FORT WORTH

What can you buy for $2?

A soft drink. A candy bar. A newspaper.

And as of this weekend, a ride on the once-free Molly the Trolley or any Fort Worth city bus.

New “$5 Ride All Day” signs have gone up on the Molly downtown shuttle, now a paid ride as part of a systemwide increase to $2 per single trip for Fort Worth city buses and $2.50-$5 for trains.

(Children, teenagers, seniors and riders with disabilities must pay $1 per ride on city buses or $2.50 for a ride-all-day regional bus and train ticket.)

The fare increase was approved in June. Officials of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority officials told the appointed board of directors the new fares would only cost an average rider $1.27 more per day.

But “The T” officials really want to sell those $5 tickets. They’re available on smartphones through the app GoPass.

“We’re going to focus on a fare that’s on-off, all-day, $5,” FWTA executive Paul Ballard said.

Boarding Molly the Trolley at the downtown train station, rider Glenna Duncan wrinkled her nose.

“I think they’ve got to be kidding,” she said.

Two dollars? To ride around downtown? That’s ridiculous.

Molly the Trolley rider Glenna Duncan

“Two dollars? To ride around downtown? That’s ridiculous. Dallas has trains and you can get places. Here, you pay $2 for nothing.”

(Dallas also pays double the transit tax Fort Worth pays.)

The fare for Molly the Trolley, a clumsily modified trolley-lookalike bus that rumbles 15 blocks south and then north across downtown, was passed over business leaders’ opposition.

“Our view is that we would prefer Molly stay free,” said Andy Taft, who spoke to the board on behalf of downtown landowners. (They pay extra in taxes for downtown street cleaning, landscaping and to share the cost of amenities such as the shuttle.)

Ridership is up. Molly now carries about 350 riders per day, according to FWTA figures. But the total cost is $1 million per year, or about $8 each.

The fake-trolley began in May 2009 when new hotels opened a long walk away from county buildings or Sundance Square.

Downtown Fort Worth is cleaner, busier and more pleasant to walk than when Molly the Trolley was launched in 2009.

Some riders are sightseers. One day last week, the 10 riders boarding Molly on one loop included two families with small children and one visitor with a rolling suitcase.

“These people taking kids to play in the water [at Sundance Square Plaza] — they already pay to feed them, now they’ll have to pay for the ride,” Duncan said.

Taft said downtown officials want Fort Worth to be “one of the most walkable central cities in America.”

“On a beautiful day, you’ll see few people riding [Molly],” Taft said, “but when there’s a big convention in town with people to move, it works well.”

The Convention & Visitors Bureau is raising $50,000 to pay a share toward Molly, bureau executive Bob Jameson said, and also toward a planned shuttle called the Dash, to the West Seventh Street area.

That route will feature new, quiet electric buses at the same $2 fare, Ballard said.

If riders like Molly or the Dash. maybe they’ll buy a $5 all-day ticket and start the day’s trip from home, he said.

If you’re wondering why the transit system needs more money, there’s this matter of the $1 billion train line to DFW Airport.

So no more free ride.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, @BudKennedy.

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