06 January, 2009

THE FOLLY OF FAUX TROLLEY - sad saga of Cincinnati and Jacksonville

A face only a mother could love - this will really pack 'em in Ohio... NOT!
For years OHIO has produced the most visitors to Florida. It's a little known fact, and I'm sure the number probably rises, falls behind, and rises again, with the economy of time. Cincinnati, not unlike Jacksonville in many ways, is a river port, industrial, and regional market center. Last time I saw a large collection of Cincinnati residents they were in Jacksonville, getting their faces smashed into our football field. I missed this years revenge.

Cincinnati, like Jacksonville has a bright idea. Let's study and build a REAL streetcar system. Development money follows streetcars more then Commuter Rail, BRT, Buses or any other mass transit. But Cincinnati is thinking, maybe a faux trolley which we Jaxson's call PCT TROLLEYS (for: Potato-Chip-Truck-Trolleys).

Why such an insulting name? Well, the final effort of the historic streetcar systems to fight off General Motors was called a PCC Streetcar (for: Presidents Conference Car - designed by a conference of street railway leaders from around the globe in the late 1930's). Our Jacksonville response to Cincinnati would be, "Have you EVER seen or ridden on one of these things?" So lets take it to the Cincinnati article and see what THEY are saying.

Streetcar opponents propose trolley
By Barry M. Horstman • bhorstman@enquirer.com • January 5, 2009

Opponents of Cincinnati’s $185 million proposal to run permanent-track streetcars from downtown to Uptown are urging city leaders to consider a rubber-wheeled trolley system that they contend could provide the same service for a fraction of the cost.

The alternative $9 million trolley plan, to be financed largely with private money, also could begin operating sooner and without the disruption of tearing up streets to lay tracks that would either eliminate parking or traffic lanes along the route, according to former Cincinnati City Councilman Charlie Winburn.

“It’s faster, a lot cheaper, and if it doen’t work out, you can walk away from it without having torn up your streets,” Winburn said. “I don’t see any downside.”

JAX TRANSIT BLOG: People are not fooled by these faux trolleys. They do nothing to promote future streetcar ridership and are seen for what they are, buses with lipstick. We have them in Jacksonville where they serve as downtown shuttles. Frankly we should have saved our money and bought electric buses for this task, at least they wouldn't smell.

However, City Councilman Chris Bortz and other streetcar proponents do.

San Francisco's 100 year old streetcar, Cincinnati? Jacksonville? Please tell me how much you'll save over this same time period with Faux Trolleys.

The proposed four-mile streetcar plan working its way through City Hall could spur hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development along the line and would be more attractive to commuters for whom public transit is a choice, not a necessity, Bortz said.

“You can dress it up however you want, but a bus is still a bus,” Bortz said. “A rubber-wheeled bus is never going to produce the kind of economic activity a streetcar system would.”

JACKSONVILLE TRANSIT BLOG: This is very true, buses of any kind only account for about 7% of all Transit Oriented Development, and a closer examination shows most of that is socialized, state and federal offices.

Winburn’s idea, patterned after a successful downtown trolley in Cleveland – where, in only two years, daily ridership has grown from about 700 to almost 5,500 – comes as the council awaits a report this month from City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. on potential public and private funds to finance the streetcar proposal.

Even if the city can fully fund the streetcar plan, Winburn argues that the much lower price tag of his trolley proposal makes it a clear preference.

“With the economy as uncertain as it is, this isn’t the time to be investing nearly $200 million in a system that, no matter what the projections say, no one is really certain is going to work,” Winburn said.

A coalition including the NAACP and Citizens Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) has started circulating petitions to place a charter amendment on the November ballot that would prohibit the city from funding the streetcar plan unless voters specifically approved the expense.

JACKSONVILLE TRANSIT BLOG: What about history? How does streetcar stack up against your PCT Bus?

After World War II, the Cincinnati Street Railway modernized its system with new rail cars and infrastructure, as directed by the city. The next City Council reversed the policy by ordering removal of all rail service. The financial losses from the abandonment of nearly new rail facilities forced frequent fare increases on the riders, until it became the first major city to have a 55-cent fare. The ridership decreased 88 percent during 40 yr.

After rail service was eliminated in Oklahoma City and its environs, transit use fell 97 percent on a per capita basis. In St. Louis, with all-bus service, only 13 percent of the riding habit remains. St. Louis has now contracted to restore rail transit on a Metrolink from the airport through downtown to East St. Louis to recover some of the transit market share.

FROM THE APTA Website: Why choose a rail-based system over a rubber-tired system?

A rail-based system provides numerous advantages that help outweigh its higher capital cost:
A sense of government commitment and permanence that reassures potential riders, neighbors, and businesses that service will continue.
People overwhelmingly prefer riding rail vehicles to buses, so rail solutions attract more passengers (see
Transportation Research Record 1221 for a detailed treatment of rail vs. bus ridership).
For the above reasons, rail systems typically inspire business development.
Heritage trolley systems provide a sense of historical authenticity that blends very well with an urban environment, especially older, redeveloping neighborhoods.
Heritage trolleys with proper maintenance last essentially indefinitely (New Orleans operates cars built in the mid-1920s in daily, heavy service) while buses seldom have a life of more than 20 years.

Bortz, though, stressed the importance of weighing the system’s long-term economic impact, not simply its construction cost.

“If spending $150 million produces $1 billion in economic activity, that’s a better investment than spending $10 million and getting nothing out of it,” Bortz said.

The permanence of the streetcar’s tracks, Bortz added, would inspire greater confidence among potential investors along the route than a system of rubber-wheeled trolleys that could easily be abandoned or moved.

JACKSONVILLE TRANSIT BLOG: Economics of streetcar -vs- fake PCT trolley buses? Take a look for yourself:

Winburn bills his plan as a relatively inexpensive, low-risk trial of the overarching concept of developing a streetcar line from downtown through Over-the-Rhine to the Uptown area around the University of Cincinnati and nearby hospitals.

Under his proposal, local business leaders would be asked to raise $13 million in private money to buy and operate 12 trolleys for a two-year trial period.

The trolleys – with a nostalgic design featuring wooden rails, brass bells and a distinctive dark green color – could be running by December, while the best-case scenario for the streetcar plan envisions a starting date in early 2011.

“This would give us some real-world experience on whether there’s truly a market for this,” Winburn said.

“If people are riding the trolleys and we’re starting to see investment along the route, great – we’ve saved almost $200 million and didn’t have to destroy our streets to do it. If it’s not working, at least we haven’t wasted a lot of money, didn’t inconvenience businesses with a long construction project and aren’t stuck with tracks we don’t need.”

City Councilman Chris Monzel occupies a middle ground in the debate.

Strongly against the current streetcar proposal, Monzel is yet to be sold on the trolley plan.

JACKSONVILLE TRANSIT BLOG: Are your PCT Trolleys really a solid plan? The Tampa Electric Company operated 100 rail cars in that city until the Tampa Utility Board refused to allow the transit property in the rate base, forcing it out of business. National City Lines, which also operated 37 buses in Tampa, took over the entire operation after the rail system’s demise. Despite rapid population growth, ridership has fallen 60 percent with an all-bus system. Per capita ridership has fallen 81 percent.

“Even if you’re primarily using private funds, that’s still a lot of money to benefit only a couple of neighborhoods,” Monzel said. “I’d like to bring a lot more neighborhoods into the mix. But once you do that, you might say, wait a minute, don’t we already have that with buses?”

JACKSONVILLE TRANSIT BLOG: So what if you DID have buses doing the same job? What would the difference be? Take a look my friends:

Cincinnati and Jacksonville need to realize that the people are not stupid and won't be fooled into investing in your rubber tire trolleys. Note these words from the American Public Transportation Association website:

Does a trolley have rubber tires?
Strictly speaking, No. Trolley cars or streetcars have steel wheels and run on rails, which are often laid directly in street paving.

Today many cities use rubber tired vehicles which are decorated to look somewhat like trolleys, but these vehicles are not real trolleys nor streetcars and are not the subject of this website. Some people may feel they can obtain the benefits of a heritage trolley line by using these inexpensive faux trolleys, but the economic, developmental, and visitor attracting benefits are not generated by these bus trolleys. Authentic rail based systems are required to achieve the benefits.

Whatever happens in Cincinnati, this blog supports CINCINNATI STREETCAR. Oh and Ohio, at least until the streetcars are rolling again in Jacksonville, could you please hold off on sending us anymore of your citizens?


  1. Consider ridership reasons: commuting? shopping? fun? going to ravel desination?

    It may be helpful to look at the San Diego trolley (light rail) system that extends from commuting to carrying many tourists to the Mexico border. That travel destination provides ample reason for "real rail."

    Short trolleys (4 miles) can offer very limited commuting, limited shopping experiences, and "oh-by-the-way," where is the travel destination that draws thousands per day?

  2. When the 4 mile trolley BECOMES the destination, what was the question? Witness San Francisco, New Orleans or your own example of San Diego. How many are visiting there just to see Mexico who are carless? How many DEPEND on that trolley to get them South when they come to town? Could it be they are coming for BOTH? To ride this famous railway AND to visit Mexico?
    BOB JT



The arguments rage to this date, "Should have never been built," "waste of taxpayer money," "Doesn't go anywhere," "Nobody rides it..." etc. Bottom line is we have it, and it is finally showing signs of life. Simple extensions to the Stadium, San Marco, and the area of Blue Cross in North Riverside would turn this little train around. Addition of Park and Ride garages and multimodal transit terminals at the end points would bring on the crowds. The video must have been shot on a Sunday Morning, as downtown is certainly as packed with life as any other major City on weekdays. Jacksonville is a city of Bikes, joggers, walkers, buses and cars, one almost wonders how the photographer managed to find this quiet moment.

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