Every time the doors swung open on the new Alton Road trolley in Miami Beach, the cheery driver was bombarded with questions.
How far do you go? How often do you pass? And is it really free?
At 8 a.m. on Monday, the City of Miami Beach launched a free — thanks to your tax dollars — trolley service to help relieve traffic and improve access to businesses along Alton Road. The street is in the midst of disruptive but necessary improvements along the corridor — one of the Beach’s most traveled.
With a route that stretches north along Alton Road, from Fifth Street to Lincoln Road, and then south on West Avenue, city officials figure the new transit loop services 300 businesses.
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“I am thrilled,” said 60-year old Luz Ceballos.
When it stopped along West Avenue on Monday afternoon, Ceballos was waiting to take her usual route around town on the South Beach local, a circulator bus that costs 25 cents. Instead, she jumped up to ask trolley driver Orlando Crespo about the route and headway times on the new service.
“Magnificent,” she said. She climbed aboard.
Ceballos, who said she often shops at the Publix on Alton and Fifth, and likes to walk the Lincoln Road Mall, said she especially liked the 10-minute wait times — noting she has had to wait for an hour to catch the South Beach local.
Emily Jiminiah, 44, hopped on the trolley after shopping for a new pair of pajamas at the Ross on Fifth Street and Alton Road. Like most of the riders, Jiminiah had no idea the new service existed. She simply read the side of the trolley, wrapped in the city’s signature colors of blue and bright green, and emblazoned with a route map and the words “FREE RIDE.”
Jiminiah called the ongoing Alton Road construction “horrible” and said she would be taking the trolley again to do her grocery shopping at the Whole Foods at 10th Street and Alton Road.
Tourists with suitcases also made use of the trolley, as well as a pair of friends who had traveled to the Beach from Miami to visit the Social Security office. Many riders asked whether the service connected to the Omni station just across the causeway.
“Everybody wants that connection,” said Crespo, the driver.
By about noon, Crespo said about 30 people had ridden on the trolley. There are two buses currently in service.
Though the route is limited for now, newly-elected Mayor Philip Levine said at a ribbon cutting ceremony that the city hopes to expand transportation services throughout all of the Beach’s neighborhoods.
“What this is about is listening to the residents, listening to the customers, and when the residents speak, being able to get it done post haste,” Levine said. “This is the beginning of how things are going to be handled in Miami Beach.”
At the inauguration ceremony, City Manager Jimmy Morales noted Miami Beach was able to put together the service in just 52 days.
“Even in the private sector, that’s pretty good. But in the public sector, that’s unheard of,” he said.
Follow @Cveiga on Twitter.