PARTA trolley debuts in Kent with new ‘Downtowner’ route

Image of a man sitting behind the will of a public bus that has been designed to look like a 19th century streetcar
PARTA senior bus operator Dave Brown sits behind the wheel of "Polly the Trolley." Jeremy Brown/The Portager

The Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority (PARTA) held a ribbon cutting ceremony adjacent to the Kent Central Gateway Transit Center on Friday at 5 p.m. in Kent to introduce “Polly the Trolley,” the first of several modern historically fashioned trolleys that will be operating in Portage County. 

A large crowd gathered to see the ceremony that was headed by PARTA General Manager Claudia Amrhein, who expressed her enthusiasm about the new trolleys and expects their appeal to increase ridership.

PARTA Board President David Gynn and PARTA General Manager Claudia Amrhein after cutting the ribbon. Jeremy Brown/The Portager

The initial trolley will traverse PARTA’s “Downtowner” route beginning in September on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings starting at 4:30 p.m., stopping at popular Kent destinations that have limited parking, such as restaurants, breweries and entertainment venues. 

PARTA will expand the route throughout Portage County later in the year, when two additional trolleys will be deployed for service. Four more trolleys are expected to arrive in 2023-24. 

Single rides are $1, day passes are $2, and half fare is $.50. But those who park at the Kent Central Gateway parking deck will get one free day pass.

“Polly the Trolley” parked on East Erie Street in Kent after the ribbon cutting ceremony. Jeremy Brown/The Portager

The trolleys are custom made by Hometown Trolley in Crandon, Wisconsin. They have a 32-seat capacity with standing room and are fully air conditioned, but also feature four large roll-up open air windows that give riders an enhanced tourist experience when the weather permits. The interiors feature elegant wood-paneled walls and ceilings with matching handcrafted hardwood seats, as well as leather grab straps and 12 archtop tinted windows. 

The trolleys are powered by compressed natural gas, a low-emission alternative to gas and diesel. Styled after a turn-of-the-century passenger cable car, PARTA’s new trolleys are designed to give a nostalgic experience and are even equipped with authentic trolley bells.

An excited passenger flashes double peace signs as “Polly the Trolley” pulls away. Jeremy Brown/The Portager

“These are the only true street cars that are made in the United States,” PARTA Chief Operations Officer Brian Trautman said. “All the other ones that you see out there are basically built on a Freightliner chassis, or something like that. These are actually ground-up, purpose-built streetcars, so it is a true rubber tire streetcar.

“The thing I like about this design the most is, it has all the modern technology combined real well with the classic feel of the trolley, and what we’re finding is people are wanting to get on a trolley and ride a trolley.” 

Following the ceremony, PARTA offered free rides on the trolley to attendees, chauffeured by PARTA’s seasoned bus operator, Dave Brown. 

“We’re just so excited about the trolleys, to bring people out to downtown Kent to enjoy the great eateries and venues and entertainment that we have,” Amrhein said. “We’re thrilled to be able to sprinkle a little joy around.”

Jeremy Brown
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