A new mode of transportation pulled from the 20th century has come to town. The two repurposed red buses crawling around downtown Lincoln are part of StarTran and debuted at the Winter Lights celebration last December.
The buses are currently free, and will increase to just 25 cents per ride after February, according to StarTran. All stops the trolleys make are popular destinations downtown and in the Haymarket, including the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Daniel Piatkowski, assistant professor of community and regional planning in the College of Architecture, said he thinks the new trolley and bus hybrids are important for new students and those unable to pay the regular bus fare.
“Particularly for students that are not from Lincoln, figuring out how the bus works and where it goes can be intimidating,” he said in an email. “I think the great thing about this is it makes transit much more convenient and accessible for people downtown.”
Anna Brodersen, a senior economics major, said she feels the trolley system’s effects may be even more substantive than Piatkowski said. She said the alternative transportation options Lincoln residents have because of the trolleys will help move the city forward.
“It could expand the usable areas downtown and give easy, walkable access to businesses that were previously too far away,” she said over the phone. “People in the Near South [neighborhood] get walkable access to downtown, the Haymarket and the university.”
Brodersen said the popular use of the trolleys could even reduce the amount of drunk driving in the city.
She said she had a first look into the trolleys’ development when she attended an open studio discussion between Lincoln residents, different national developers and civil engineers.
The event, which took place in April 2017 and was open to the public, focused on the long-term master plan for the downtown area. The two trolleys were the collaborative result of the meeting.
The trolleys cost more than $400,000 each, and the Federal Transit Administration Ladders of Opportunity Initiative covered half the cost per trolley. Contrary to the older buses that reach all over Lincoln, the trolleys are fueled by compressed natural gas which minimizes emissions by 20 percent, according to StarTran.
Brodersen said she thinks the trolleys will promote more eco-friendly practices by encouraging Lincoln residents to park farther away from their destination and then ride the trolley to get to their end goal.
“I feel like we Nebraskans are rather walking-averse, and people going out in the Haymarket, Railyard or the O Street area usually just stay there,” she said.
According to Brodersen, she had the idea while at the open studio, though she said she’s sure other professionals shared her sentiment. But Brodersen said she can’t help but feel like she had something to do with the introduction of trolleys to Lincoln’s downtown and Haymarket.
“All I know is that in April I ran around a city planning open studio talking about the trolleys and now all of a sudden there is one,” she said. “It certainly feels like they actually heard my idea and made it happen.”