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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

City seeking FDOT’s support for free Downtown Trolley Service

City officials will look to adopt a resolution seeking additional support from the state for a new trolley service that will run between various landmarks in and around downtown Ocala. 

The Ocala City Council will consider the resolution, which would support the submission of a grant application for the Florida Department of Transportation 2026 Public Transit Service Development Program, during its regular meeting on Tuesday, May 21 at Ocala City Hall (110 SE Watula Avenue). 

This is an electric trolley bus previously approved by the Federal Transit Administration
An electric trolley bus (Photo: Federal Transit Administration)

According to the application, the city hopes to create a “fixed-route downtown circulator service” that is “tailored to the specific needs of” the downtown Ocala community. 

A proposed map shows nine stops and the city’s application shows at least 13 “primary activity centers along the proposed route.” 

Those activity centers include Tuscawilla Park, AdventHealth Ocala, the Reilly Arts Center, and several others around the Historic Downtown Square. 

This map shows the proposed circular route for downtown Ocala.
This map shows the proposed circular route for downtown Ocala. (Photo: City of Ocala)

“The proposed downtown circulator service is not just about convenience; it’s about modernizing the overall transportation system,” reads the application.

The electric trolley bus would be “free of fare charge” and would operate at intervals every 20 minutes between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday. 

“The operating time is significantly improved compared to the current systemwide service frequency of 70 minutes, often leading to suboptimal transfer timings at the downtown transfer station,” reads the application.

The proposed service would use a “battery-electric trolly in line with” the city’s commitment to “environmental sustainability,” according to the application. 

The city believes the battery-electric trolley would be a “significant step” in the city’s commitment to seeking “eco-friendly transportation” solutions to become a “zero-emission bus fleet by 2023.” 

“Introducing a battery-electric trolley downtown circulator is a significant step towards a more sustainable and connected future for the City of Ocala,” reads the application. 

The city also noted the inclusion of the Downtown Transfer Station to improve its connectivity with the rest of the area. 

“With the implementation of the downtown circulator operating on a twenty-minute headway, residents and tourists will experience a new level of convenience and ease when transferring to/from the Amtrak service,” reads the application. 

If the city proceeds with the application and it is accepted, the implementation plan indicates that Downtown Circulator service would launch as early as August 2025. 

The delay would in large part be due to the build time for the battery electric trolley, which is estimated to last 11 months. 

According to the application, all expenses would be paid for through the city’s tax increment financing for the Downtown Community Redevelopment Area (CRA), as well as local matches beyond the initial grant funding period.

The city has already received a Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Section 5307 Consolidated Capital Grant to cover the acquisition of the battery electric trolley and associated charging infrastructure.

The funds from the FTA grant will be used to acquire the trolley and charging infrastructure, while the state participation will cover the initial three-year operating expenses and two-year marketing campaign activities before and after the route opens, according to records. 

City officials and residents have sought a trolley system in downtown Ocala for several years now. 

Last fall, the city began offering the Ocala Main Street Trolly on Fridays and Saturdays from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. That trolly makes four different stops around downtown Ocala. 

Ocala Main Street Trolly Map
Ocala Main Street Trolly Map (Photo: Ocala Main Street)

The program was originally made possible by a donation of two 4-seat golf carts by a local business.

Nearly five years ago, Ocala Main Street staff and residents discussed the possibility of a trolley during an Economic Vitality meeting at a local brewery.