Tuesday, January 9, 2007

The Great Streetcar Hoax

Randal O'Toole has a very interesting article in the Madison Capital Times and went into why the current streetcar bandwagon is more of a hoax being perpetrated on the public than anything else. I encourage everyone to read it.

In the article, he goes after the "Holy See" of the modern day streetcar movement, Portland Oregon. Portland is always the example used by cities when they come up with plans for a streetcar line. The plans for the any new streetcar line usually include a trip to Portland as well, at taxpayer expense of course.

The pro-rail movement has so distorted the truth regarding the Portland streetcar line that one can't come away without thinking it's a roaring success. Even the city and transit system buries the problems when visiting officials make the pilgrimage to see the line.

O'Toole goes into the development factor along the Portland streetcar line and how the development happened through taxpayer subsidies to private developers. Just from the taxpayer subsidization of the private development, Portland taxpayers are stuck with a quarter million dollars of debt. This doesn't include the cost to build the line or to operate it.

The pro-rail crowd will never admit that the majority of the development along a rail line demands government subsidies to entice developers to build. What we get from them is that development always follows rail. They'll deny up one side and down the other that the development occurs primarily from fleecing the taxpayers through, often times, quietly issued government subsidies to the private sector.

Mention is also made of how the streetcar line effects the rest of the Tri-Met operation in Portland. Fare hikes and service cuts were needed to help keep the trolley running which resulted in reduced ridership on the system. While the streetcar wasn't the direct cause, it sure didn't help the finances.

Again, the pro-rail crowd will never admit that a streetcar line will effect existing service except to improve it. They claim that the streetcar will enhance service by attracting people to ride system-wide. The reality is the exact opposite as the streetcar doesn't come anywhere close to being cost efficient and siphons money from the rest of the operation to keep it running. That money comes from cutting service elsewhere.

I still believe that political legacy plays a huge part in why cities are jumping on the streetcar bandwagon, something O'Toole doesn't address. What he does address however, is very scary to read. Knowing more about how much pro-rail rhetoric is spun in order to hide the actual facts is something every citizen should know.

Again, I encourage you to read the O'Toole article. It's very insightful in exposing the streetcar hoax.

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