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Taking a ride on the Lake Placid Express Trolley System

March 17, 2009
MARTHA ALLEN, News Correspondent
      LAKE PLACID — It’s a cold morning to be waiting in the Placid Placid Price Chopper parking lot, and windy. Even standing up close to the building isn’t much help. But the first trolley stop of the Placid Express is right on time—7 a.m. The fare? It’s free!!!

    Inside, the trolley is still pretty frigid. It takes a while to warm up on cold days, says the driver. I can tell by the embroidered inscription on her jacket pocket that her name is Ginger.

    Yes, her name is Ginger Suojanen—it’s Finnish—and the jacket is her new uniform. She wears many layers in the winter, including leggings, she says. She thinks all the layering makes her appear sort of bulky in photographs, but what can you do? Layering is a must, at least until the vehicle warms up. With all of the big windows, it warms up faster on a sunny day. She pours some coffee from a big thermos.

    If the trolley is not too warm yet, Ginger’s smile is, and she is greeted warmly by everyone she takes in. Most of the people who get on along the route, which winds around and through Lake Placid, are regulars, and there is plenty of laughing and conversation.

    One young man gets on and tells her he may be a little late for work.

    “Honey, you don’t want to ever be late for work,” she tells him. “it’s a test. It’s all a test. No complaining or excuses.”

    “She’s a trolley car philosopher,” explains another passenger, who hails from St. Augustine, Florida. Although he himself doesn’t complain, he looks a little chilly in his jeans and jacket, without gloves.  He and Suojanen discuss the best procedure to follow if you’re fishing and happen to fall through the ice.

    “Turn around 180 degrees so that you’re facing back the way you came—that ice is stronger—and try to pull yourself out,” Suojanen advises. The thought is not appealing.

    The trolley connects at the Olympic Center with the Mountain Valley Shuttle to Whiteface, which goes from there to Ausable Forks. Shuttle service is complimentary.

    Suojanen is not local, she says; she moved to the Adirondacks 30 years ago from Toledo, Ohio. She is the only full-time trolley driver in the system. There are five part-time drivers, and there will be about a dozen in the summer. School bus drivers drive the trolleys when school is out. Suojanen has been a summer driver for several years, and became the first full-time driver when the position came open in September, 2008. She has an eight-hour shift.

    In the summer, there are mostly tourists on the trolley, she says. It is a very popular means of conveyance, and can be romantic for couples.  They can have a couple of glasses of wine and not have to worry about driving, she says. The trolleys are attractive, wood inside and out, with big windows, and people like them.

    At the Medical Center there is a sign that reads “Sleep Lab.”

    “That sounds like a good job,” suggests a passenger.

    Suojanen says that she visited the sleep lab once. It was helpful. She drops off “the girls,” women going to a cleaning job at a local motel. The trolley is warming up and passengers begin to thaw.

    There are four trolleys that were named by Lake Placid Elementary school students, she explains. Their names are not on the trolleys right now, since they have protective coverings over their fronts in the winter, but in the summer their names will be proudly displayed once more. This is Gracie. The others are Lollipop, Tinkerbell and Harold.

    Actually, Harold now serves as a visitor information post for the Visitor’s Bureau said Community Development Director Angel Marvin, but a new one is on the way. The green trolleys come from the Dolly Trolley Corporation in Portland, Maine.

    “The trolleys make lake Placid look so good! And they really cut down on Main Street congestion,” Marvin said.

    ORDA worked to have the trolleys run all winter, and not just in the warmer months.

    Funding is somewhat complicated, compounded of Federal Transportation Agency monies disbursed through the New York State Department of Transportation and contributions at the village and town levels.

    The system was started in 2002 with a used trolley and in 2005 there was an award through state Department of Transportation funds.

    “Lake Placid runs it (the trolley system),” Marvin explained, “but ... Essex County owns it.”

    State funding is based on the number of riders and the number of miles. Last year, 78,000 people used the system.

    “We started with very little and built it up. Mayor Jamie Rogers made it happen,” she said.

    Suojanen revealed that there is some controversy around the trolley system. Some people feel it caters too much to tourists, or that it takes away from taxi companies.

    “It’s good for people on fixed incomes, who might otherwise spend $14 going to Price Chopper and back home. When it’s warmer,” interjected a bearded man in a woolen cap, “Senior citizens sometimes get on and ride the trolley for fun.”

    “It’s good for people who aren’t as lucky as we are,” Suojanen agreed.

    Trolley schedules are available throughout the village and at the Lake Visitors Bureau or village office.

Article Photos

A trolley pulls out from the trolley stop next to the municipal parking lot across from the Olympic Center on Main Street.
Richard Rosentreter/Lake Placid News



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