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(Image: Alison Caruso)

Washington's only open-air trolley is located in Friday Harbor

For those particularly concerned about the safety of public transportation options like trains, buses and planes during the pandemic, it's worth keeping in mind what is possibly the safest remaining public transit option: Washington state's only open-air trolley.

The Friday Harbor Jolly Trolley, located on San Juan Island, is family-owned and operated. Its open nature comes with built-in circulation and ventilation, meaning no stagnant germs hanging about in the air on this ride. The trolley company, which offers guided tours around the island's best sights, has seen a downswing of visitors due to the pandemic, like all businesses that rely on tourism. But that doesn't mean they're not still sticking around.

Alison Caruso and Tony Jenne started the Jolly Trolley in 2015 after Jenne broke his back and was told by doctors he could no longer work in excavation, his profession for over twenty years. Years prior, they'd been to San Juan Island and had asked a friend if there was a bus or trolley to take visitors to the sights and transport them from place to place on the island. Caruso was surprised when her friend said there wasn't. So in 2015, knowing Jenne needed a job that would let him be more relaxed and stretch his back as needed, they thought back to San Juan Island. It led to a stroke of inspiration; they invested in their first trolley and started the business from absolutely nothing.

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Now, nearly six years later, they've upgraded from a single trolley to five trolleys and a bus. Two of the trolleys are wedding specialty options, each featuring "an elegant Chantelle loveseat, refrigerator, dry bar, chandeliers, crystal rosebuds, large flat-screen TV, a politician platform and many more special touches," according to Caruso.

While the normal opening season is May through September or October, the trolleys are available for bookings for weddings, private and corporate events any time of the year. And for those still looking to host a smaller scale group gathering in San Juan, there may be no better option these days. The trolleys provide transportation, a unique experience and a beautiful setting, with the safety benefit of continuous airflow (and of course, all drivers are masked and trolleys are sanitized).

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For those who have never been, Caruso said the experience is one of a kind, whether during the normal opening season or for a special event. Riding the trolley is nostalgic, like taking a little trip into the past. You can hop on and off at the various stops as you prefer, getting out to enjoy the sights of the island, then returning later to continue the ride.

As with many industries and businesses, this trolley and other tourist spots on San Juan Island were hit hard by the pandemic. By the time they were permitted to open in 2020, people were driven away by safety concerns, and the normal crowds of tourists were totally missing. Caruso said they saw many nearby businesses close, and "it was truly devastating to our small island community." By next spring, they have high hopes that the risks of the pandemic will have eased, and they'll be able to welcome the many smiling faces of visitors they're used to seeing year after year.