Updated: 5:25 p.m., Wednesday, August 10, 2022
Visitors to downtown Kent and other areas of Portage County will soon be able to travel in a more nostalgic way.
The Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority (PARTA) is launching new streetcar service starting Aug. 19, officials said in a news release Wednesday.
Initially, trolleybuses will ferry passengers around Kent town center to popular places where parking may be difficult, such as restaurants and breweries, PARTA officials said.
PARTA leaders hope the carts will encourage people to use public transport, said PARTA chief executive Claudia Amrhein.
“You put regular buses and nobody notices them, but you put trolleys and people suddenly want to get on them,” she said. “We really hope to increase our traffic and exposure.”
The carts will be nicknamed “Polly the Cart,” she said.
PARTA will receive the first cart sometime next week, in time for the Aug. 19 launch, Amrhein said. However, the carts are unlikely to be running regularly until September, she said.
“It’s kind of a cart before the horse, but it’s just to kick off the event and get people to see it and get excited,” Amrhein said. “We’ll make sure all the t’s are crossed out and the i’s are dotted and are what we want.”
Three trolley buses will eventually run on PARTA routes throughout Portage County – especially on streets that have slower speed limits and more frequent stops.
The initial aim is to get customers to park their car in the Kent Central Gateway car park in Kent town center and use the trolley to get around the area.
“You can park in the walkway, jump in the cart, go out and have dinner somewhere along the road, get back up, get back in your car, go home,” Amrhein said. “That’s the idea – sort of a park-and-ride.”
Eventually, trolleybuses will operate on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings on PARTA’s “Downtowner” route, which is a modification of the existing “Suburban” route, she said.
The carriages will feature authentic carriage bells, wood paneled walls and ceilings, wooden seats and removable window panels for outdoor riding, officials said in the statement.
To encourage ridership, PARTA is running a special offer where every car parked at the central entrance is entitled to a free day pass to ride the streetcar, and single and day passes can be purchased at the lobby of the transit center, she said.
One-way passes cost $1. Day passes are $2.
Acquiring new transit buses is already a long process, Amrhein added, but the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing supply chain issues have further delayed the project.
The new cart service has been in the works since 2018, when PARTA learned of a company that makes carts that can be used year-round in cities with colder temperatures, Amrhein said.
This is not the first time the region has had a cart. A streetcar once connected Kent, Ravenna and Akron in the early 1900s, but service was withdrawn in 1932, according to Amrhein.
PARTA will hold a service ribbon-cutting ceremony on August 19 at 5 p.m. on E. Erie St. near Kent Central Gateway. Free trolley rides on the “Downtowner” route will be available after the ceremony, according to the release.
PARTA plans to add four more trolleybuses to its fleet in the coming years.
The new service comes as another long-running trolley service in northeast Ohio ended operations earlier this year. Cleveland’s private downtown trolleybus, “Lolly the Trolley,” ceased operations after nearly four decades in May. The streetcar service cited the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors for its closure.