Starting Monday, visitors and residents of Miami Beach can catch a free ride through the construction on Alton Road.
A trolley service called the Alton/West Loop will take passengers north along Alton Road, from Fifth Street to Lincoln Road then south on West Avenue back to Fifth Street. The trolleys are part of a new initiative by the city of Miami Beach to help businesses on Alton Road affected by prolonged construction on one of the city’s main streets.
The service is scheduled to start at 8 a.m. Monday.
Branded with the city’s signature blue and green colors, the Alton/West Loop trolleys feature the slogan “pick up, eat up, stock up” and a graphic of the route. The trolleys will run from 8 a.m. to midnight seven days a week. About 25 passengers can ride at a time and the route takes about 20 minutes, with two trolleys in service to reduce wait times to no longer than 10 minutes.
Operating costs for the trolleys will total approximately $750,000 a year, with funding being taken from a hotel tax funds according to Nannette Rodriguez, a city spokeswoman.
“This is a way to get people to circulate and access these businesses in a way they haven’t been able to during an uncomfortable time,” said Beach Mayor Philip Levine, whose company, Royal Media Partners, has its offices at Tenth Street and Alton Road.
Construction on Alton Road began in April 2013 and is slated to run through the Summer 2015. The project aims to install three new pump stations and a new drainage system, and rebuild roadways and sidewalks along the busy street.
The consensus with most business owners is that the trolleys are nice, but they need the construction to end as soon as possible.
"A trolley is a very nice thing, but this isn't going to make the business owners producing what they were before,” said Susan Shor, owner of Ace Hardware, 1668 Alton Rd. “The project needs to be pushed faster."
City officials are working to provide a “park and ride”option for travelers parking at the garage at Fifth and Alton. A proposed validation program providing the first four hours of parking for free is being considered.
In addition to the new service, the city is launching an "Open for Business" campaign. The office of communications is proposing using signage, banners, social media, online ads and a new website to further help offset lost sales for Alton Road businesses.
As far as the trolleys’ use beyond Alton Road? Levine sees the buses as a test to increase public transportation in the long run for Miami Beach.
“I think it’s something great we’re doing right now,” said Levine, speaking on the phone before a meeting with Florida Department of Transportation officials on expediting Alton Road construction. “It’s great, but I think it’s a test of an expanded service to have better circulation in Miami Beach.”
-- GREGORY CASTILLO, gcastillo@MiamiHerald.com