Come on and take a free ride: The Garde offers shuttle service in downtown New London
On Thursday night, with the temperature dipping below the freezing mark, folks were swathed in scarves, shoulders hunched against the chill, and scurrying along the sidewalks of New London, heading to see the 8 p.m. creative-percussion performance of “Stomp” at the Garde Arts Center.
Other ticket holders, though, took a warmer, more relaxed route. They clambered into a 24-passenger DATTCO bus, nestled into their seats, and rode in the comfortably heated vehicle as it wended its way through downtown New London, making stops at various parking lots and garages — and the Garde.
Thursday was the inaugural night of what is being called the Garde Arts Center Shuttle. It’s a new community transportation service that will run for six hours around the time of several upcoming shows at the Garde.
While it’s organized by the Garde, the shuttle is available to anyone wanting to move between various points in the downtown area.
Another element worth noting: rides on the shuttle are free.
Stops are at the Eugene O’Neill Drive municipal lots, the Pearl Street and Golden Street intersection of Bank Street, the Water Street municipal parking garage, City Hall and, of course, the Garde. Organizers expect the continuous loop to repeat every 15 minutes.
Garde Executive Director Steve Sigel says that there have been a lot of discussion and some efforts over recent years by various organizations to have local transportation like a trolley or bus in New London.
One of the Garde’s board members, Paul Mayer, is vice president of DATTCO, the passenger transportation company that’s based in New Britain. Sigel says they talked about the idea of a shuttle: “Why don’t we see if people want it? We could rent a bus to start picking them up and dropping off wherever they want to go.”
“When we thought about it, it was to serve two purposes. One was just to help people around showtimes get to and from the Garde, without having to repark their vehicles if they were dining downtown, or if they couldn’t find place close enough, they could just hop on,” Sigel says. “The other part of it is to have a circulator that would just keep going around, kind of a New London welcome bus. They could get on board, they could read a book for four hours if they wanted to (he laughs), they could get out of the rain.”
Indeed, a couple of “Stomp” patrons on Thursday parked their car on Washington Street, near the Garde, walked down to the Social Bar + Kitchen on Bank Street to have dinner and then, upon hearing about the shuttle from someone working at the restaurant, took the shuttle to the theater, recalls Garde Board of Trustees President Phil Michalowski, who was on the bus as well.
“Unlike the Shubert, we don’t have a multi-tiered parking garage attached to the theater. So you do have to find your spot,” Sigel says. “There’s certainly enough parking, but it’s the distribution of parking that can be a challenge. Also, for older people who don’t want to run from their car to get to the theater on time or have a distance to walk or can’t go up hills too easily, we thought this was a convenience that would enable folks to be a little more relaxed about their experience downtown.”
Sigel says the shuttle runs are a test. There isn’t a long-term commitment or investment at this point, but they’ll see how things work out and then go from there.
The cost to run the bus is about 600 a night, Sigel says. The Garde is looking for sponsors to help defray the costs.
Right now on performance nights, the shuttle runs for six hours, between 5 and 11 p.m., but that might be adjusted later on.
During this initial test period, organizers will see if the route should be changed at all, based on various factors, including circulation patterns and patron feedback.
They began thinking seriously about the concept six weeks ago, and it was a quick turnaround until the first Garde Arts Center Shuttle took to the road. Consequently, the word is still getting out, but a number of patrons have already availed themselves of the option.
On the shuttle’s first days of Thursday and Friday, Michalowski was onboard, seeing how things were going and chatting with passengers. He says reactions ranged from “This is great” to “It’s warm in here!” to “How long is this (shuttle option) going to go?”
On Friday night, about 34 people used the shuttle before the show and upwards of 20 did afterward.
The shuttle picked up folks at a variety of stops, including at the Eugene O’Neill Drive lots and the Water Street garage, and Michalowski says, “There’s definitely demand there, and of course everyone was enthusiastic and appreciative.”