by Max Grossman
Tomorrow under agenda item 17 our City Council will decide the fate of our insolvent streetcars, which are free to ride. The City is now calling them the “no-cost option” for commuters.
During this morning’s agenda review, we learned some stunning new statistics.
Tracey Jerome, Senior Deputy City Manager, told City Council that the annual operating cost—that is, annual loss—amounts to $2.9 million per year.
Based upon the agenda backup, which documents average ridership since September 2021, Rep. Chris Canales was able to calculate that there were 65,000 streetcar rides in 2022.
Thus, in 2022, each ride cost the taxpayers approximately $44.62!
Canales estimated ridership is on track to increase by about 18.5% for 2023, which will lower the cost per ride to about $37.66 (assuming the operating loss does not increase), which is still staggering.
Today I spoke to Anthony DeKeyzer, Assistant Director of Transit Operations, who told me that the average cost per ride for the city buses was $8.77 in 2022.
Thus, the streetcars are more than five times more expensive to operate than the buses!
The state of Texas initially provided $97 million for our streetcar system, and it has been hemorrhaging financially ever since. The $2.9 million annual subsidy comes from the half-penny City sales tax earmarked for transit, and that supports the operation of the system, including the salaries of 15 City employees.
The Mayor weighed in: “I was down there two weeks ago on a Tuesday night, and I watched the trolley go by ten times and saw zero people in it. That’s not maximizing the taxpayers’ money.”
The proposal on the table for tomorrow is to operate the streetcars only during “event-driven programming by the City of El Paso and other entities,” in a bid to reduce costs drastically.
Former Rep. Peter Svarzbein, who absolutely owns the trolleys and their huge operating loss, told Jhovani Carrillo KFOX14 that the system was never about ridership alone, but also a tool to help boost economic development. He stated: “Since the streetcar opened up in 2018, five new hotels have come along all within 1,000 feet of a streetcar stop. These are all projects that came along in an ecosystem that’s fueled and supported by having an active streetcar.”
Svarzbein seems to suggest that his trolleys, which run in a circle between the Segundo Barrio and UTEP and, as the Mayor pointed out, are often empty, have somehow helped establish five new hotels. Uhmmm, okay.
I am so glad that Brian Kennedy is now my representative for District 1.
I must admit that I have been wrong about these things all along. I alwas refer to this as the “Trolley to and from nowhere,” but obviously it has had a route and a destination all along that I missed. The route? To ruin. The destination? Bankruptcy, such a word is appropriate to a tax payer funded money pit like this.
I think former Rep. Svarzbein maybe didn’t have an electric train set when he was a boy and the trolley is the substitute for that lost experience. He clearly was the visionary on CC but not on taxes and the consequence of this decision.
The few times I have been along the route I too notice that they run empty, even when the ride is free. After reading the Downtown + Uptown Plan (you can see my opinion about it at https://elpasonews.org/2023/04/06/opinion-pause-the-downtown-uptown-plan/ ) I now understand how the trolley was purposed to provide transport along the path of that development, i.e., 20 years too soon.
It’s not easy to revisit these decisions that were made by a CC packed with developer patsies, but that has changed. Maybe time to revisit the AAA stadium too and see if the HOT really covers its cost or are we subsidizing it, too.
Jerry….Excellent piece in the El Paso News. I just don’t “get” the Previous City Council and some of the holdovers…Even though Leeser’s role is more diminished due to El Paso’s City Manager Style of Government. At least he is showing signs of exasperation…Tommy Gonzalez being the first thing to change. Despite the whining of Former Mayor Dee and self-anointed “First Lady.” The people are just too placid and happy with bread and circus (Chihuahua’s)….