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KINGSBURG – After unanimously approving the acceptance of a 32-foot long trolley from the Fresno County Rural Transit Agency, Kingsburg City Council members were excited about the possibilities the unique mode of transportation offered the town. Especially considering the trolley is being acquired with little upfront cost and potential for drawing visitors and generating funds.

FCTRA General Manager Moses Stites brought a similar trolley to the Council’s Aug. 7 meeting where Council members and citizens in attendance climbed on board to take a look at the wooden interior of the vehicle.

FCTRA approved spending $300,000 out of their 2019-2020 budget to acquire the trolley for Kingsburg. Stites said the funding source is Measure C, the half-cent sales tax approved in 1986 aimed at improving the overall quality of Fresno County’s transportation system.

“I think what we have here is a tremendous opportunity,” Stites said. “We’re fortunate enough to have in our budget the funding to purchase this trolley. It’s a capital purchase and there’s no out of pocket for the City itself.”

The 2017 Hometown Trolley Villager model can carry 26 seated passengers and one wheelchair or 24 seated passengers and two wheelchairs. The model that Stites has on hold for Kingsburg looks similar to the model he brought for viewing.

Although the FCRTA would own the trolley, Kingsburg will be able to use it as they wish since the town is a member of the agency’s joint powers agreement.

The trolley won’t be part of the FCRTA’s regular fleet because it would have to meet farebox recovery percentages as required by the Transportation Development Act. Instead, Stites said it would be better for Kingsburg to use it as an enterprise opportunity.

“We don’t think it be in the best interest to [put it in the regular fleet] because we would have to be constantly monitoring the farebox. This arrangement gives the City flexibility to use it as an enterprise opportunity and use it with the Chamber and Historic Train Depot and Historic Park.”

The trolley could provide transportation between landmarks during special occasions in town and provide transportation to the new senior housing complex that will be built across the street from the Historic Park.

Stites said he first got the idea to make the purchase while talking with Kingsburg Mayor Michelle Roman and touring Kingsburg’s Historic Train Depot.

“I commended you folks on what you’re doing overall. What was most impressive to me was that Train Depot and what you’ve done with it in the renovation and the volunteer efforts. It was just astounding.”

FCRTA will be adding a bus shelter near the Train Depot and already has one installed near Coffee Pot Park.

“We’re also doing some innovative things with that bus shelter and putting in cameras there that should tie into the police department,” Stites said.

The agency also just recently rolled out a pair of the County’s first electric busses with routes coming out of Kingsburg to Fresno and Reedley. These 40-foot, 35-passenger vehicles have a range of 158 miles per charge.

“Range is everything in rural communities because of the distance we travel. We’ve been getting about 176 miles out of it. They come back with a 17 to 26 percent charge. That’s really critical, especially when you’re running the air-conditioning unit or heating.”

The busses come equipped with ramps and drivers assists passengers with boarding if needed.

“You’re the first in the County get these electric vehicles out and they started here in Kingsburg. What better place?”

In his report to the Council, City Manager Alex Henderson wrote about the arrangement:

FCTRA will provide ongoing maintenance.

The City can designate drivers - either paid or volunteer - who will be trained by the FCTRA to operate the trolley. Drivers will need a Class B license.

The City will cover the cost of insuring the vehicle and drivers. This can be done through the City’s existing carrier, or by reimbursing FCTRA.

The City will be responsible for fuel costs.

Although electric and compressed natural gas-fueled models are available, Stites recommended they use a gas-powered model because of the weight of the trolley. And considering possible maintenance issues, Stites added that downtime would likely be less with a gas model versus electric or CNG.

“I think gas is more dependable. Those engines now are at their [most efficient] emission standards. They’re somewhat fuel efficient, however because the vehicle weighs so much, you’re not going to get the best gas mileage. But as far as the fumes and all that, it would behoove you to stay with the gasoline,” he said.

CNG is cleaner burning, but is not a zero-emission vehicle and it would cost an additional $35,000 to convert the engine to that type and would take another three months, he said.

“If you’re scheduling events on the weekend, and the CNG vehicle goes down on a Friday, what do you for that wedding party you’re working with and they’re looking forward to that trolley?”

Council will get input from the Economic Development Committee on the trolley’s color scheme, logo and design. FCTRA is willing to cover the cost of personalizing the vehicle.

“We’ll maintain it for you. The only out of pocket you’ll have is the fuel, insurance and whatever you decide to do with the drivers,” Stites said.

Mayor Michelle Roman suggested they look into sponsorships where ads would be posted on the interior and exterior of the trolley to defer costs. She added the trolley could be used to transport seniors who will eventually live in the housing complex near the Historic Park to events in town. And since weddings often take place at the Historic Park, the trolley may be another option to rent for wedding receptions. Also, the Historic Park and Museum volunteers are planning to be open more often and the trolley could be used to transport visitors between the two locations, she said.

Councilman Sherman Dix said he’d seen some questions residents posed online about the trolley, but after asking questions about costs and route requirements, he felt the arrangement would be a benefit to the City.

“This is a no-lose situation if we get it. If it’s not feasible for us to run it, we can stop at any time so we don’t have a long-term commitment. Maintenance would probably be the biggest cost, but we don’t have that responsibility.”

Dix said a trolley is an idea the council had talked about having “as a dream. I think it’s something we should approve.”

After some brief discussion, Council unanimously approved the trolley and Stites estimated it could be brought to town within just a few weeks. It could then be painted in two weeks and be ready for deployment in six to eight weeks.

When asked if it could be ready in time for Crayfish Festival on Sept. 21, Stites said he and City Manager Henderson could get the insurance arrange and FCRT could arrange for a professionally trained driver for the event.

In other matters, the Council also:

  • Heard a detailed report from the new Fire Chief Daniel Perkins regarding the opening of Station #2.
  • Heard an Economic Development Committee report on agri-tourism by coordinator Jolene Polyack.
  • Discussed a social media policy for the Council, Planning Commission and members of City committees to meet California Public Records Act and Brown Act requirements.
  • Approved increasing the amount of matching contribution granted in the City’s façade/alley program from $5,000 to $10,000 per application. The program is designed to encourage economic investment and revitalization to buildings within the central commercial zone district and improve the appearance of individual buildings, storefronts, signs, window displays, parking lots and sidewalks in the Downtown area.
  • Heard a report by City Attorney Michael Noland about a property at 1201 Kern St. that was formerly used by the Consolidated Mosquito Abatement District. The City will conduct an environmental report and accept the property once a clean title is declared. The property may wind up being used for storage.

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The reporter can be reached at 583-2427 or lbrown@selmaenterprise.com.

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