ST. LOUIS — The revived Loop Trolley began its first regular run Thursday in two and a half years, drawing riders for various reasons — and with differing opinions on its worth.
“I’m excited to see it back and of course it’s nice that it’s free,” said Dr. Claire Anderson, 77, a retired radiologist from Kirkwood as she took a mid-afternoon ride with three of her grandchildren.
She said they got on the trolley to go to Forest Park after having lunch at Fitz’s, an eatery in University City’s part of the Delmar Loop commercial district. “It was very convenient,” she said.
Anderson said her wish is that the trolley, which shut down at the end of 2019 amid financial troubles, mechanical problems and low ridership after a year of service, will now be successful. “I’m hoping, but St. Louis tends to be a little too small-thinking,” she said.
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A few seats away, Sam Catalano, 64, of Fairview Heights, said he shared critics’ view that it was a waste of money to spend $51 million, much of it in federal grants, to build the 2.2-mile line from the Loop to the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park.
Catalano, a retired federal employee, said he decided to ride the trolley Thursday because he likes trains. But, he said, “it’s like an amusement park ride in the middle of the city.”
As for it being viable transportation to get from place to place, he said, “Forget it.”
They were among about 25 people riding when a reporter got on board. The Bi-State Development Agency, which took over the trolley operation from the nonprofit Loop Trolley Co., is using just one trolley car on the line, with a second as a backup.
Michael Renfro, 65, a retired auditor from Clayton, was upbeat. He rode his bicycle to the park, then got on. “It’s not maybe the most efficient form of transportation but it’s fun to ride,” he said. “I think it’s great for tourists.”
He added that it “doesn’t have to make money to be viable.” The trolley rides are free, unlike in its previous run.
Judy Fox, 75, a retired librarian from Brentwood, took the trolley Thursday with two friends, including one visiting from New York City. “Before it shuts down, we thought we’d jump on it,” she said.
But, she added, building it wasn’t a good idea. “It’s very impractical because it’s too short a distance,” she said.
Not just area residents were using the trolley Thursday. Also on board was Dr. Thierry Genereau, a physician from Nantes, France, and his wife, daughter and two sons. They were in St. Louis on a month-long trip to the United States.
“It was the best way to go from the museum to the Loop,” said Genereau, 58.
Bi-State officials declined to provide reopening-day ridership numbers, saying in a statement that the agency’s objective now is to “establish a continuity of service and to make sure it’s a safe operation.”
“Our focus is not on ridership during this pilot period,” the statement said.
The agency also said the line had run smoothly Thursday. The line will operate from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays until Oct. 30, when it closes until the spring.
Bi-State CEO Taulby Roach and St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones had urged Bi-State’s commissioners to revive the line after a federal official warned that the region may have to pay back tens of millions of dollars spent on the line if the cars and tracks remain unusued.