Tourism Hopes Riding On Alexandria Trolley

By Kirstin Downey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 1, 2008

By land and by sea, Alexandria is preparing for the launch of the National Harbor mega-hotel and convention complex in Prince George's County by introducing two ways to get tourists and Washington area residents to the city and across Old Town to Metro.

Alexandria inaugurated a free trolley service that, starting today, will run every 15 minutes, ferrying passengers from the King Street Metro station to the waterfront, where they will be able to hop aboard a water taxi and head across the Potomac River to Maryland.

The red-and-black trolleys, which feature old-fashioned wood-backed seats and large picture windows that let passengers look out over the Old Town historic district, are drawing praise from tourists and residents.

The trolleys began operating last week on a reduced schedule, and the full service will be inaugurated as the water taxis begin plying the route between the waterfront and National Harbor. The water taxis, which go into operation today, are operated by a private firm that hopes to disgorge 500 to 1,000 tourists in Alexandria daily. A round-trip adult fare is $14.

A steady stream of passengers boarded a trolley Friday morning as it made its way along the 19 stops that stretch out across Old Town. Tourists said the trolley, with its clanging brass bell, makes Old Town more attractive and accessible. Some residents said it made them more likely to ride rather than drive.

"It's so unique looking," said Gena Manalan, a tourist from Boston who climbed aboard at the King Street Metro station and rode to the Alexandria visitors center at 221 King St. "People gravitate to these instead of to a conventional conveyance."

"It's cute," said Alexandria resident Bibi Booth, who said she would urge her friends to use the trolley when visiting her instead of driving to Old Town. "It might help keep traffic down."

The trolley service is expected to cost up to $800,000 a year.

The city initiated the trolley service, which replaces a conventional bus service with a more limited schedule, to capitalize on the development of the National Harbor convention complex. The city has viewed economic development in Old Town as a key strategy for coping with declining revenue from property taxes as real estate values fall. City officials hope the trolley will bring more dollar-wielding customers to the city's restaurants, museums and stores.

The trolley is intended to link up with the water taxi, which will make the trip between the Alexandria City Marina and a pier at National Harbor, a $2 billion, 300-acre mixed-use development. The first convention at National Harbor started yesterday.

The water taxi service, operated by Potomac Riverboat Co., will initially offer departures once every hour, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., with each one-way trip expected to take about 20 minutes. Alexandria officials hope the trolley will whisk tourists deeper into the city and discourage them from clogging the streets by driving.

In September, when the City Council approved the project, officials anticipated they would soon receive a transportation windfall because of the state transit-funding agreement approved last April. Alexandria officials thought they could use this money to pay for the service, so they ordered the four trolleys and contracted for the service to begin.

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