Changes are coming Saturday to the trolley service that connects the heart of downtown Waco with the tourist mecca of Magnolia Market at the Silos.
The city’s Silo District Trolley will expand its route to pass by Balcones Distilling on 11th Street and pass through Austin Avenue before returning to the Silos at 601 Webster Ave.
The decision resulted from a public meeting Thursday that drew more than 40 people, mostly downtown merchants who wanted more exposure from the free public trolley.
Based on the majority of responses, the route will follow Webster west from Magnolia, turn right at 11th Street and right again on Austin Avenue.
In the short term, the route will turn right again on Eighth Street, but once the city can make some striping changes to Austin, the turn will move up to Sixth Street, Assistant City Manager Cynthia Garcia said.
From there, the route heads east on Franklin Avenue to University Parks Drive, then takes Webster Avenue back to Magnolia.
The route previously followed Eighth Street to Franklin, then University Parks back again on Webster.
The trolley service began on an experimental basis in mid-July and now runs Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
The loop takes 10 to 15 minutes but is expected to increase to 15 to 20 minutes with the expanded route. The city has been running two shuttles during peak times on Saturdays.
The service has averaged 2,000 to 3,000 riders per week, with a total of 51,666 riders since July, officials said.
Garcia said part of the intent of the trolley service was to broaden the itinerary of the 20,000 shoppers who come to Magnolia Market while also relieving a parking crunch around the attraction.
“We wanted to find a way to get those shoppers into downtown so they could see our beautiful downtown area,” she said at Thursday’s meeting.
Bo Evans, co-owner of Interior Glow at Sixth Street and Franklin Avenue, said the service has been successful at bringing more out-of-town business to his shop. Many of them get off the trolley at the Franklin Avenue traffic light when they see the shop windows, Evans said.
“If the light catches, it’s almost guaranteed they’ll get off,” he said.
Even more should disembark when the trolley stops on the Sixth Street side, he said.
The route change comes as Balcones Distilling opens its retail shop and starts distillery tours. The store is open 2-7 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 1-7 p.m. Saturdays, and President Keith Bellinger said he expects the trolley will help the distillery manage the crowds he expects.
“I think the free parking will really benefit us, and the traffic from Magnolia will help,” Bellinger said.
Magnolia Market spokesman Brock Murphy said the company will do all it can to support the trolley. It already funds the wages of a police officer who helps with traffic control at a free parking area on University Parks Drive.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Murphy said of the trolley. “Our vision has always been to get more traffic to other businesses in town.”
Garcia said the shuttle is expected to cost about $250,000 a year, which will likely be funded with a combination of city, Public Improvement District and advertising revenue.