EDITOR’S DESK: Streetcars: What price charisma?
Streetcars seem cool and all, and after all these years the Pikes Peak Historical Street Railway Foundation should get a prize for persistence, if nothing else. Still, I
found myself wondering, as I read through the recently released “Streetcar Feasibility Study,” just how viable such a system really would be.
Interestingly, the whole concept seems to rely on some indefinable charisma that streetcars have. Wherever they are built, they attract more riders than buses do, not to mention development interest along their routes, according to the study's research. That's intriguing, but begs the uneasy question (unaddressed in the study): What if the charisma goes away? What if, after a year or two or three, potential riders stop saying "Gee whiz" at the sight of a real, honest-to-God electrificated streetcar in their midst, and start saying instead, "You know, that thing isn't getting me there any faster than the bus," or "That's the 19th time I've gotten stuck behind one of those bulk-wads on Colorado Avenue," or (even closer to home), "My $%&@ taxes just went up again! How much is that streetcar system costing us?"
The latter question really ought to get some microscopic scrutiny before this project gets too much farther down the, er, track. City Council members put up no objections and are probably relieved that streetcar proponents have thus far found funding sources elsewhere (putting aside for now the fact that federal grants are also "our" money and I thought we had a multi-trillion-dollar deficit). Plus the local situation could change - the study suggests future looks at city tax sources, also parking revenues. No streetcar system in America now makes better than 25 percent of its expenses at the farebox. Those streetcars could soak us financially... though in a charismatic way.