The dream of a free trolley to ferry folks from SunRail to Downtown DeLand is inching toward reality.
You’ll have a chance to experience how it would work when the trolley company, Lake Mary Shuttle, brings a trolley to town Saturday, Oct. 21, to give free rides 10:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. to people attending Stetson University Homecoming events and the football game.
The trolley will return again Friday, Dec. 1, to be on display during the holiday Light Up DeLand event, and will participate in the DeLand Christmas Parade the following day.
DeLand’s SunRail station west of town is expected to come online in the summer of 2024. Between now and then, there are many questions to be answered about whether trolley service will come online then, too.
In Matt Brown’s vision, it will.
Brown has been working on the trolley idea for two years as a member of the MainStreet DeLand Association’s Economic Vitality Committee. The team visited Sanford, which runs a free trolley from its SunRail station to its Downtown, and there they met Andrew Singh, the operator of Sanford’s trolley and the co-owner, with his father, of Lake Mary Shuttle, a company the father and son founded in 2003.
Singh doesn’t just drive Sanford’s trolley. He narrates the ride with interesting facts about Sanford and its history.
“Being a tour guide — it’s something I love doing,” Singh said. “Teaching people something they didn’t know about Old Florida.”
He’s looking forward to bringing the same experience to DeLand and its visitors, and outlined the positive effects trolley service can have: “Move the economy, help the merchants, draw attention to the city. It’s an investment for the city. … It’s going to be a great fit and a hit for the community.”
But a question remains about who would pay for the trolley, since it would be free for passengers. The vehicle itself will cost either $250,000 for a hybrid gas-and-electric model, or $450,000 for an all-electric trolley.
On top of that, DeLand would face operating and maintenance expenses of either $250,000 a year for the hybrid or $450,000 a year for the electric trolley.
Prospects for funding, Brown said, include grants, sponsorships, advertising on the trolley and City of DeLand funding.
On the flip side, the economic benefits of offering the trolley are many, Brown said. They include the prospect of bringing more customers to the doorsteps of DeLand businesses, for one, along with boosting the use of DeLand’s SunRail station, assisting people who live in DeLand but work in the Orlando area, and making DeLand a more inviting place to live.
“I really see it as a good thing,” Brown said.
Once operational, the extension of SunRail from DeBary to DeLand will run in both directions — into and away from DeLand. A free trolley on the DeLand end could help assure the northward flow.
“It’ll be one more thing that makes people want to go to DeLand,” Brown said.
“Hopefully this brings people north on SunRail.”
Plus, Brown said, the trolley can be used on the weekends when SunRail isn’t operational, to provide transportation for DeLandarea events, like the West Volusia Historical Society’s Christmas-season Heritage Tour of Historic Homes & Buildings, for example.
The funding challenge is significant, Brown said, but public support for the trolley dream inspires him to keep working.
“I haven’t met a person who says, ‘No, I don’t like that idea,’” Brown said. “Everybody loves it.”
Working On It
Individuals and organizations involved in the effort to get a trolley for DeLand include:
— Members of the MainStreet DeLand Association Economic Vitality Committee: Jim Huster, Hari Pulapaka, Geof Felton and Kristi Tyrell
— John Booker with Volusia County government
— Former Volusia County Council Member Barb Girtman
— Mayor Chris Cloudman, City Manager Michael Pleus, Assistant City Manager Michael Grebosz, and Community Development Director Rick Werbiskis of the City of DeLand
— Deanna Hinsz of the Carbon Silk marketing firm
— Wayne Carter and Stephanie Mullins of the MainStreet DeLand Association
— Stetson University
— Barb Shepherd