In case you missed it, the TARC trolleys will be free this summer. Fares were first imposed on the trolleys in 2004, and TARC executive director Barry Barker says ridership dropped as a result.

Various downtown businesses and development organizations have come together to sponsor the trolleys through the summer, in a deal Barker says is mutually beneficial. The goal, he says, is to shrink downtown; to make it easier for pedestrians to go from the Brown to the Belvedere to the Slugger Museum to Slugger Field. Barker hopes the trolleys will tie together businesses along the routes, and the businesses putting up the money to sponsor the trolleys probably share that hope.

If the plan works in the short term, Barker says TARC and the other partners in the pilot program will try to secure more sponsorships to keep the trolleys free.

But what about the buses? I asked Barker last week whether sponsorships could be the key to TARC’s future. The cash-strapped authority has little option but to reduce service when budgets get tight, and Barker seems eager to find a solution. He told me small governments across the country have to find new ways to fund public transportation–fares and occupational taxes aren’t cutting it. He said he would be happy to have a conversation with anyone who would like to sponsor TARC, but right now, sponsorships will only cover the trolleys.