RAPID CITY (AP) - Since 2007, the rise and fall of Rapid City summers have coincided with the arrival and departure of its green and red trolleys.
The retrofitted buses with their turn-of-the-last-century cable car appearance run June 1 through Aug. 31, Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., providing riders with a narrated tour of city attractions like the Journey Museum, Storybook Island, Dinosaur Park, Founders Park and the Berlin Wall in Memorial Park.
But while another recent Rapid City summer attraction, the Summer Nights series, has undoubtedly brought visitors and dollars to the area, some have questioned whether the trolley service does the same. Upon closer inspection, the service has demonstrated steady ridership with minimal impact to the city's budget, the Rapid City Journal reported.
This past summer, 7,169 passengers hopped on the trolley for its one-hour circuitous loop, which "begins" at the Milo Barber Transportation Center at 333 Sixth St. but can be boarded or departed at any of the trolley's 15 stops.
Adult fares are $2 while children 12 years old or younger or 60 years or older - as well as disabled citizens and Medicare card holders - pay $1. One paid fare lasts for the entire day it purchased. In all, the city's three trolleys, which rotate day to day or week to week, cumulatively drive about 8,000 miles per summer, according to figures provided by the city's Rapid Transit department.
Taking into account gas, maintenance and drivers' salaries on one side of the ledger and farebox revenues and federal/state transportation funds on the other, Rapid Transit director Rich Sagen said the cost to city coffers is only about $10,000 annually. By finding temporary employees, the city avoids hiring full-time, benefited employees for the service.
Even the initial purchase of the city's three trolleys - the trolley service initially started with two, with one for backup before the city reduced its service to one trolley per hour based on demand - didn't cost the city a dime. Federal transit funds covered 83 percent of the purchase while a private donation from a local resident covered the remaining 17 percent. Overall, the three buses were purchased for $363,814, with two trolleys bought in 2007 and the third in 2008.
Sagen said the trolley with the most mileage has about 50,000 miles but other than basic maintenance like oil, brake and tire changes, the trolleys have avoided major work thus far. He also said the service, from his perspective, is worth it.
"If you're riding for the first time and you don't live here, you're going to learn a lot about the community," Sagen said. "There is a lot of real good historical information on there. They may not even know the Journey Museum exists but they go over there and then go 'Hmm, we're going to have to come back and go to this museum."
Even Rapid City residents, he said, can learn a thing or two from the ride.
"I just think it adds to the overall experience not just for the tourists but even for people who live here," he said. "We have people that are repeat riders every season and they call and want to know when it's starting."
So next June, as clear spring mornings recede into sultry summer afternoons, expect the red and green trolleys to reappear along city streets. And if you get a moment, consider giving it a shot. As Hunter S. Thompson once advised, "Buy the ticket, take the ride."