Leesburg's residents and visitors will soon be able to get around town and to the popular outlet mall nearby on a trolley-style bus -- whose price tag will be considerably less than town officials expected.
With a federal grant picking up 80 percent of the cost of the vehicle, and the state covering an additional 6 percent, the town's bill will be about $15,000, rather than the $20,500 approved by the Town Council.
The savings came when the town agreed to buy a demonstration model at a discount.
The full price of the trolley, which has about 2,700 miles on its odometer, is about $104,000 -- while a similar new one would cost at least $120,000, according to Mark McGregor, chief executive of the Virginia Regional Transportation Association (VRTA). The association -- a private, nonprofit provider of public transit -- had applied for the state and federal grants being used toward the purchase price.
The Town Council voted in June to acquire the trolley, which will be owned, operated and maintained by VRTA. The council's goal is to lure more of the 5 million annual customers who shop at Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets mall to the town's historic district, particularly during the holiday shopping season.
Marantha Edwards, the town's tourism coordinator, said visitors and residents will be able to appreciate Leesburg from a different perspective while traveling on the old-style vehicle. "It creates a synergy between what's going on outside the town and what's inside the town," she said.
The red and green trolley has wooden benches with wrought-iron fasteners, brass railings and big windows with decorative stenciling, said Edwards, adding that the town intends to make use of an important modern element of the trolley: a CD player.
Town officials had hoped the trolley would be on the street earlier, but the series of hurricanes that hit Florida made it difficult for VRTA and Leesburg officials to travel to an Orlando dealer of Specialty Vehicles Inc. to inspect the demonstration vehicle.
"We didn't want to take it sight unseen," said Betsy Fields, Leesburg's economic development director. "It took us a while to find a time when everyone could go and there wasn't a hurricane."
Despite the delay in purchasing the used trolley, which was built by Indiana-based Supreme Corp., a new one might have taken several more months to put in service, McGregor said.
The trolley is expected to make its debut by the end of the month, after it has been decorated with the town's shooting-star logo. It will be free to ride and will operate from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, departing every 30 minutes from the County Government Center. Its route will start with a loop through the historic district -- heading west on Loudoun Street, north on Wirt Street and east on Market Street -- before heading on Fort Evans Road toward a stop by the Wal-Mart. It then will make a stop at Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets before doubling back.
The trolley, which might be given a name, also may be used for town functions and could even be rented for private events on evenings and weekends. The trolley is expected to last about four years or 150,000 miles, McGregor said.