Streetcar teaches lessons for future spending

By JORGE ENCINAS

wPg06-Encinas_JorgeThe Tucson modern streetcar has been sold to taxpayers as a vital necessity to revitalization of downtown while providing a much-needed form of public transportation. In reality, it’s a waste of money and labor.

The various planners of the streetcar line, city officials and public supporters of the estimated $196 million project make numerous claims about the benefits to come after completion.

Supporters claim creation of 500 construction jobs and 1,500 long-term jobs, plus predict creation of new businesses and an increase in consumers along the route due to greater public mobility.

These benefits could have been accomplished without the need for an expensive and limited form of transportation. It’s a system that will be primarily used by a small portion of the city population, rather than being a practical means of transportation for the city as a whole.

A better solution to bringing in both new businesses and consumers would have been to use the money to resurface the roads and to hire additional Downtown Tucson Partnership security.

With improved roads and better access to parking, more people would be willing to drive into downtown. Any real increase in local business sales will rely heavily on attracting people from all over the city, not just the university area.

Repairing the roads and adding new parking still would have provided the important 500 construction jobs.

Added security would help to bring in families that would like to feel safer when walking and shopping downtown or along Fourth Avenue. That currently can feel like an unattractive option for parents who want to bring their children.

Buying more versatile, and cheaper, wheel-based shuttles would have fulfilled the same transportation needs provided by the streetcar.

The use of these wheel-based shuttles would have offered more flexibility to route planning and a greater range of service to more portions of the city, while still preserving the “green” benefits by utilizing alternative fuels.

It’s too late to change this now as the project is halfway completed and the money spent, but it can be taken as a lesson for future revitalization projects and ongoing Rio Nuevo developments.

When it comes to the use of public money, planners and officials have a responsibility to find the best solutions that benefit the city as a whole while using less money to achieve more.

Encinas believes the best way to improve the local economy is by focusing on efficient and practical solutions rather than excess spending on extravagance.

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  1. Having lived in several cities around the world, I think the proposed alternatives to light rail are based on ignorance. Light rails offer a smooth, comfortable ride on a relatively flat track. The entire ridership experience is different from a van or bus as anyone who’s ridden both can tell you. That difference in experience also makes a difference in whether people will bother to make a trip at all. The University of Arizona has roughly 35,000 students, many of whom choose entertainment options on campus or on university boulevard. Shuttle options would not entice them to leave the way a light rail would. For demographic reasons, they are the most ideal target market- they are in the perfect location. The number one barrier to going downtown is the difficulty in finding a parking space- just ask any Tucsonan why they hate going downtown. Repaving roads that are already paved well enough wouldn’t address that problem.

  2. Sidra says:

    To rob
    As a downtown employee I fail to see businesses sales down fifty percent and some closing altogether as a sucess by any definition. Not to mention the incompetence and delays in construction for a street car that taxpayers will be paying the bulk of for at least five years of operation.

  3. Rob Tomlinson says:

    Thanks for the opinion, but it’s half-baked. The streetcar is only under construction at this point and we have 100’s of millions of dollars of private investment being made downtown already. This is exactly what the downtown needed and it is working as anyone can see. The time to be a nay-sayer was when it was still in question…. Its hard to criticize success.

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