Cassandra Buckalew, owner of the Historic Marietta Trolley Company, said she hopes to launch tours in Atlanta in late May.
Buckalew, who started the company with her husband, Brian, in 2008, says the company will not abandon its tours in Marietta. Instead, the company will offer tours in Atlanta on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
"We have tours in Marietta Thursday through Sunday, and we plan to keep that," Buckalew said. "It was just an opportunity that came up, and we realized that our trolley was sitting a good portion of the week. Unless we do a school field trip or corporate event, most of the time it's just sitting in our storage facility, and this is a great opportunity for us to get it out and moving in Atlanta."
Buckalew said when she learned that the firm that previously operated trolley tours in downtown Atlanta went out of business in January 2010, she and her husband saw it as an opportunity to expand their business.
"I thought, 'Here's our chance,'" Buckalew said. "So I went down to talk to folks in Atlanta to see what the issue was and why that trolley company went under, not to be naive."
From her research, Buckalew believes The Historic Marietta Trolley Company will be able to thrive in downtown Atlanta. Buckalew said that it's her understanding the other company had trouble with their trolleys breaking down and being on time and also did not do enough marketing.
"We do have a strong marketing background," she said. "I think that the other organization didn't have good footing in the area. He didn't have reliable trolleys ... So from a basic operational, marketing standpoint we already have a head start."
The company is doing well in Marietta, Buckalew said, and saw a 30 percent increase in profit over last year, though she declined to be more specific. Last year, the company also began offering rides around the Square in yellow pedicabs.
While the couple has talked about buying a new trolley, Buckalew said she's planning to test the tours with just one trolley at first.
Buckalew, her husband and their staff are working on plans for the Atlanta tour now, and hope to get the route established within a few weeks. She said they are looking to start the tour in the center of the Luckie Marietta District, which surrounds Centennial Olympic Park. The tour will likely include the Atlanta Underground district, the Peachtree area, the High Museum of Art, and the Fox Theatre.
Once the tour is set, Buckalew said, she will have to go before the Georgia Public Service Commission for an operating tariff to operate in Atlanta.
"You can't really tell the Marietta story without telling a little bit about the Atlanta story, and vice versa," Buckalew said. "The two coexist nicely. It's something that we're hopeful and optimistic about. We're testing it out, too, before we take that big step in buying another trolley."
For the Atlanta tour, the company is looking at ticket prices of around $25 for adults. The Marietta tour costs $20 for an adult, $18 for seniors and students, and $12 for children ages 4 to 12. Children age 3 and under are free.
Tour guide Audrey Griffies, who is helping write the script for the Atlanta tours, said she is excited to learn more about the history of Atlanta and share it with a new audience.
"I've lived in Marietta since 1968 and I'm a sixth-generation Georgian ... so Atlanta has always been part of my heritage," said Griffies, who previously spent two decades as the spokesperson for the city of Marietta. "I think it will be fun. I love meeting people who are visitors and showing them our hometown."
Griffies, who will mark three years as a tour guide with the company in July, said she has been doing research for the Atlanta tour script by reading archives from the Atlanta newspapers. She said the company plans to make the Atlanta tour 90 minutes long, with about 22 historical sites. The Marietta tour is about 75 minutes long and includes 33 historical sites.
She said her favorite thing about giving tours is teaching people about the history of Marietta and hearing stories from those who are on her tours.
"We have a lot of people who live in Marietta and come to take the tour and then bring back visitors," Griffies said. "We love taking Old Mariettans around and having them hear some things they didn't know. And I love hearing their stories, too. I have incorporated a lot of their stories in my tours. Some things we've added because people have taken the time to tell us."