Sunday, March 16, 2008

Trolley Car Propaganda: An Update

The September 9th Sunday News ran a long article extolling the virtues of bringing trolley cars (they call them "street cars") back to Lancaster. The article is available here.

NewsLanc comments on the article's assertions:

1) The formation of the Lancaster Street Car Co., a Pennsylvania nonprofit corporation, is recognition that no "for profit" company would be willing to invest in the trolley system.

2) How does a trolley "stitch the city together" any better than a bus? If "fifty-cent fares" are the key, we could simply subsidize loop buses. Better yet, provide them for free. The subsidy would not be much different than providing trolley cars, and free trolley bus service would surely spur downtown development.

3) "The 2.6-mile loop would cost an estimated $14.1 million." Guess who will pay the $14.1 million. If you say us taxpayers, you got it! A similar length street car system in Charlotte, NC was budgeted at $20 million and actually cost $40 million.

4) The idea is that it would be "financially sustainable." But the published projections by the sponsors indicate an annual loss of about $300,000. Research trumps wishes. The existing trolley bus that follows much the same route carries an average of only eight passengers per trip, so isn't it likely the deficit will be $500,000 or more? So who gets to pay the deficit? Again, taxpayers.

5) But wait. "...backers will certainly look for philanthropic dollars..." Dollars sunk in mindless trolley cars are no longer available for other worthy projects.

6) "...backers will chase advertising dollars..." But trolley buses also run advertisements.

7) " exempt status to provide donors with tax advantages and help solidify corporate partners..." Tax exempt status means indirect tax payer subsidy. There ain't no free lunch!

8) "...fine tune the route and design of the proposed system, with an eye on minimizing traffic disruptions." They acknowledge that running trolleys down the street and stopping every time someone wants to get on or off disrupts traffic. In Charlotte, NC, trolleys run off the streets on a separate right-of-way.

9) "Streetcars would operate at about 10-minutes intervals around a north-south loop along Queen and Prince streets, from the city Amtrak station to Southern Market Center at South Queen and Vine Streets." These main streets are already congested several hours each day. Traffic is expedited through coordination of sequential traffic signals. With street cars stopping for passengers, traffic will no longer be able to flow at a steady pace.

10) "There are, backers acknowledge, a lot of legitimate concerns about the project. Traffic is a major worry...[they] may in fact reduce traffic volume, if people park at the edges of the city and use the trolley to get around town." The Amtrak station is the "edge of the city?" Plans for station parking expansion are modest and, at most, will only relieve current station parking problems. So where are commuters to park? It is hard enough now for residents to find street parking for their cars.

11) "Conventioneers and visitors ... might want to visit Clipper Magazine Stadium or go antiquing in the 300 block of North Queen Street." Conventioneers will come to Lancaster to watch our local baseball team? Nonsense! If shoppers want to stretch their legs and look around town, they will walk a couple of blocks to antique stores.

12) "It can be built quickly, inexpensively, right into the street to get around without a car more easily." It requires $14.3 million minimum (and, if like Charlotte, NC or the convention center early estimates, the budget will likely double) to create the infrastructure for the trolley line. It costs nothing towards added street infrastructure cost to simply run a distinctively painted loop bus.

13) Trolley buses running much the same route only average eight passengers a trip. That hardly pays the driver's wages. Most potential passengers will be from Lancaster. If they won't take a trolley bus, why will they take a trolley car?

14) "This is not some harebrained idea," said Jack Howell of the Lancaster Alliance. Seems that way to us.