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Trolley companies respond

Trolley companies respond to residents' concerns; propose solutions at tourism meeting

Evan Lasseter

Savannah Morning News

Savannah's search for a tourism balance encountered a new development at the city's Tourism Advisory Committee meeting Tuesday morning, where a trolley representative gave a presentation responding to quality-of-life concerns brought by downtown residents.

Tuesday's presentation was given by Garry Patrick, general manager of Old Town Trolley Tours of Savannah, and came after members of the Downtown Neighborhood Association presented their concerns to the TAC in October. Tuesday's meeting was held at Old Town Trolley offices at 1115 Louisville Road.

"It's very, very important to me that we come up with a balance," Patrick said during the presentation.

Trolley operator offers potential solutions to noise and traffic problems

Patrick proposed a set of potential solutions to address issues of trolley traffic and noise, two of the top concerns brought by DNA residents. At the top of the list includes coordinating routes across Savannah's three major trolley companies to reduce traffic, and also implement "directional speakers" to reduce amplification outside of trolleys.

Those potential solutions proposed Tuesday were different than ones initially brought by DNA, which advocated for a cap on the number of tours and also for in-ear technology to reduce amplification. However, the ideas presented are ones the DNA will listen to, said David McDonald, president of DNA.

"The biggest thing is collaboration and talking," McDonald said. "Not just between the city and industry, but listen to the residents."

Patrick said in-ear technology, which he referred to as ear buds, does not enhance the visitor experience. When it comes to reducing the number of tours, it would place visitors back into cars, which would be bad for traffic, Patrick said.

"If you reduce the number of tours, the people are still going to be here," Patrick said.

The directional speakers proposed Tuesday would work something like this: a speaker would be placed at the front and rear of the trolleys, and the speaker type is designed to project to the opposite end instead of outside the trolley, Patrick said.

Ryan Madson, the Victorian Neighborhood Association's representative on TAC, said the neighborhood associations would like to see those speakers in action before endorsing their use. Patrick said that once the first trolley is fitted with directional speakers, the company will hold a viewing to compare with their current amplification system. The first vehicle fitted with these speakers may be ready within about eight weeks, Patrick said.

The other top solution proposed by the trolley companies were route reductions in the most congested areas of downtown. The three major trolley companies ― Old Town Trolley, Old Savannah Tours and Kelly Tours ― have signaled plans to collaborate on planning around "pinch points," areas where tours from each company often come together.

New trolley routes in the future

The next step is for the companies to meet with city staff to design these routes, which tour leaders signaled could be ready for the peak of the 2024 season.

"I think we're ready to do that," said Charlie Brazil, who represents motorized tours on TAC.

One neighborhood group concern about route alterations is they might divert more trolley traffic from downtown into other residential areas such as the Victorian Neighborhood or Thomas Square. Another concern is that resident groups will not be present when city staff and trolley leaders meet to design initial routes.

Rachel Buck, the City of Savannah's tourism management supervisor, said staff needs to create a set of options to then bring back to the neighborhood groups for consideration.

"If we don't have something to show you guys, then it's not going to really work," Buck said at the meeting.



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