I often complain that the streetcar did NOT get the X Billions of dollars spent in the Pearl. That was because of the tax abatements, which even continue today and will via extensions, etcetera. But what advantages do I know the streetcar to really have?
Legitimate Reason #1: It’s stuck on the tracks, so it builds confidence along the line for developers.
This is true, you can go and ask a number of the individuals that are responsible for starting businesses along the line. It offers longevity and a feeling of safety and comfort along the line too. Along routes where buses are businesses often have fewer people out on the street near the line, near a streetcar though people don’t feel bothered by its presence like they do buses.
Does this counter my argument that the streetcar didn’t contribute significantly to the X billion? No, because the X billions that where invested in the Pearl where mostly large scale developer money, which as I said before was primarily based or the organizations, structure and liveliness of the city, and of course the ability to sell units the abatements that removed the punishment doled out to residents via the excessive property/home taxes.
Legitimate Reason #2: The streetcar is consistent.
People know what it is, what it does, and obviously where it goes. Bus routes change regularly and disparage riders. I’ve run in to no less than 3 individuals who asked me where a bus stop is on 3rd or 4th, to which I had to explain that the buses don’t run on 3rd or 4th anymore but on 5th and 6th now. Those stops of course, don’t even remotely resemble what was there on the mall before, or even reflect what was on 3rd and 4th. Even though it seems like a negative to have a consistent, unmovable route, it actually has this and the aforementioned benefit.
In turn for the “sometimes rider” from the suburbs this adds comfort to the rider. This is one reason for games, events, and other such things in downtown Portland, millions of rides a year are taken on MAX or Streetcar that otherwise wouldn’t have been made into downtown. The money that these riders bring into downtown, and to the city in general, equates to millions per year and hundreds of jobs. Otherwise this money would have probably went to X-Boxes or other trite entertainment with 90% of the money going out of the United States.
Legitimate Reason #3: This reason does NOT apply to Portland’s Streetcar. Portland’s streetcar is outrageously expensive. However, most streetcars are NOT even remotely as expensive as Portland’s.
Often they’re about 2-3x more expensive than a 40’ bus. This leads most streetcar systems to be 10-30% cheaper than a comparable bus line. If you don’t believe me, I’ll have the math coming very soon. Currently I’m working the math out for light rail, which is a no brainer when looking at any long term transit strategy for a high throughput corridor.
Over the next 15-20 years of streetcar operations in Memphis, Little Rock, and other places the streetcars will actually end up being LESS expensive then comparable bus service. In San Francisco and some other larger cities around the world, where streetcars have continued running for over 100 years, they’re already absurdly cheap. In New Orleans the original St Charles line, even with hurricane repair included, is easily 30% cheaper than what bus service would cost for the same ridership numbers along that line. Don’t even get me started on San Francisco’s lines, especially the cable cars, which pretty much under most logical accounting rules actually make a profit, but can’t say so because they operate under a non-profit accord for the city.
Legitimate Reason #4: Electric Streetcars, just like electric vehicles of any type that run from catenary, are really easy to maintain. An electrical motor and system is far less complex than a complex diesel engine.
Diesel engines are generally less reliable, more prone to issues during snow, heat, and other extreme conditions. Electric engines are awesome for reliability. In addition to reliability they’re also very powerful, often more powerful than diesel engines.
Legitimate Reason #5: This reason is dumb, absolutely stupid, but it is a legitimate reason why streetcars have an advantage over many modes. Matter of fact, I don’t event like this reason, but here it is anyway.
People LOVE streetcars. Not for any logical reason, they just do. Most people that LOVE streetcars do not have any reason they can verbalize or write down, that has a logical basis. It might be a temporary thing, it might be a long term feeling, it might only be a myth among urbanites. Whatever the case, fact is, the majority of people will get on a streetcar and sometimes even ride about for hours, long before they’d do the same on other modes of transport. This plays to a much easier time of gaining political support for getting them built out. Of course, there are some really loud naysayers, but the pro-streetcar people are actually louder these days, and thus win out.
Legitimate Reason #6: They last forever.
New Orleans runs streetcars that have had basic maintenance and a revamp or two, that where originally built in the late 1800’s. Streetcars are especially easy to keep up over a long period of time. New Orleans is a prime example, a city which has been through hell and back multiple times, has managed to keep up multiple streetcar units that are over 100 years old. There is no reason that these ever really need replaced, as with maintenance and appropriate piece part replacement, can last forever in an economic, environmental, and usability context. Many other vehicles eventually just get thrown away and replaced beccause it is more expensive to maintain then to buy new. This is not the case with Streetcars. Streetcars are more like a building, one doesn’t just tear down a building or a home every few years. Instead a remodel, a repaint, or a simple rewiring and then back to the route.
This type of service does not bode well for buses and most rubber on road based transport.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m also going to have the list of advantages that buses have coming soon. So Al M, Erik, and my other hard core bus fans, don’t lynch me yet. It’s coming. I gotta get all this pro-streetcar, pro-light rail, and pro-commuter rail (NOT WES) out of the way first. 🙂
So everyone keep reading and stay tuned for the top reasons transit rocks, more to come.