Here are the answers to a few questions you may have had about that red and green trolley that has been tooling around Leesburg since Monday:
* It runs every half-hour, Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., on a route that links Leesburg's historic downtown district with Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets mall to the east. The route begins at the Loudoun County Government Center.
* The trolley isn't really a trolley. It is a bus dressed up to look like a trolley. It operates on diesel fuel (like a bus), not electricity (like a trolley). It doesn't go clang, clang, clang, although the driver can ring a bell if he or she is so inclined. But Leesburg officials are still calling it a trolley.
* The trolley replaces a bus that served the same route. The bus charged 50 cents a ride. The trolley is free.
The idea behind the trolley is to encourage tourists and locals alike to explore shops, restaurants and cultural attractions on and near the route. "It's to highlight the fact that there are things of interest all over town, not just downtown, not just at the outlet mall," says Betsy Fields, Leesburg's economic development director. "And we're hoping that just riding the trolley will become a cool thing by itself."
The trolley has 29 wooden-bench seats and space for two wheelchairs. The wooden seats make it less comfortable than a bus, but the trolley is heated and air-conditioned, and its windows can be opened when the weather is nice.
"This looks like something you'd ride at Disneyland," said Nancy Torres, 30, of Leesburg, as she stepped into the trolley Tuesday morning. "At first, I thought this was just going to run around Christmastime. It's great that it'll run all year. I feel like I'm in a cartoon show riding this trolley."
The trolley is owned by the Virginia Regional Transportation Association (VRTA), a Purcellville-based not for profit that operates public transportation in 10 communities. VRTA runs another trolley in the Shenandoah Valley community of Staunton.
The going price for such trolleys is about $130,000. VRTA snagged Leesburg's for $118,700 because it was a demonstrator model that had about 2,000 miles on its odometer. VRTA spent an additional $10,000 in sales taxes and on fixing it up.
VRTA bought the trolley in Orlando at America's Bus Superstore, a sort of big-box retailer for the public transportation industry.
Buying a used trolley is a lot like buying a used car -- you have to kick the tires a few times and look for defects. That was the job of Kathy Finniff, VRTA's chief financial officer, and Marantha Edwards, Leesburg's tourism coordinator. "We flew down to Orlando in late September and took the trolley for a ride," Finniff said. "After listening to the engine and checking the interior and outside for any physical damage, I knew it was a good deal."
Leesburg's share of the cost was $14,700. That's because 80 percent of the cost was paid by a federal program that supports transportation in rural areas. Leesburg and the Commonwealth of Virginia split the remaining 20 percent.
The trolley has a CD player. But, no, you can't bring your own CDs to play over the sound system. "We're planning to create a town CD, with the music based on the season," said Kathleen R. Leidich, assistant to the town manager. No word yet on which tunes will be played.
You can hail the trolley anywhere along the route, but it is better to board at designated stops. That way, you won't run the risk of the driver not seeing you and passing you by.
Drivers handed out gold-colored trolley charms as passengers boarded this week. "I've been telling people, 'Don't go to the pawn shop with these charms. They're not made of real gold!' " said driver Buddy Smith.
The service may be extended into weekends. But first, Leesburg officials want to see how popular the trolley is. The bus averaged from 1,500 to 1,700 one-way trips a month on the route now plied by the trolley. "We're hoping to eventually double that," says Mark McGregor, VRTA's chief executive. "The trolley in Staunton covers 6,000 to 7,000 one-way rides a month." McGregor will await his marching orders from Leesburg. "If they tell us to run the trolley Sunday from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m., that's when we'll be out there running it," he said.
Trolley trivia time:
Q. Who sang "The Trolley Song" ("Clang, clang, clang went the trolley") in the 1944 movie "Meet Me in St. Louis"?
A. Why, Judy Garland, of course.