Transit Expert Bashes Streetcars

One of the country’s smartest and most honest analysts on transit and light rail is Randal O’Toole.  Mr. O’Toole’s been associated with the Cato Institute for almost 20 years and per his Wikipedia bio focuses “on private land rights, particularly against public land use regulations and light rail.”  His research and writing illustrates the folly and terribly bad decision that the OCTA and city of Anaheim have made in approving a $319 million streetcar system to connect their Convention Center, a station near (but not at or in) Disneyland to the new $184 million ARTIC train station — totally, a $503 million unjustifiable RISK to connect to the California High-Speed Railsystem that’s simply not coming to Anaheim.


From O’Toole’s Blog, The Antiplanner, he writes today in Streetcars as an Intelligence Test (emphasis added is ours):

…My report showed that streetcars are just plain inferior to buses in every possible wayThey are slower; can’t carry as many people per hour; prone to system failure (if one is disabled, every car on the line has to stop); can’t easily respond to changes in travel habits; and are far more expensive than buses…

Streetcar advocates seem immune to these facts. Instead, their notions are all based on the nostalgic fantasy of taking a railcar somewhere. “San Antonio is the largest city that doesn’t have streetcars,” said one advocate–as if they have to be just as foolish as everyone else.

In response to the “rail advantage” argument, the Antiplanner pointed out that even if people were so snobbish as to ride streetcars when they won’t ride buses, there is no reason why taxpayers should subsidize snobs.

O’Toole’s penultimate work on streetcars was published earlier this year: The Great Streetcar Conspiracy.  He neatly summarizes the orgasmic desire for this ancient technology as simply greed:

The real push for streetcars comes from engineering firms that stand to earn millions of dollars planning, designing, and building streetcar lines. These companies and other streetcar advocates make two major arguments in favor of streetcar construction.

The first argument is that streetcars promote economic development. This claim is largely based on the experience of Portland, Oregon, where installation of a $103-million, 4-mile streetcar line supposedly resulted in $3.5 billion worth of new construction. What streetcar advocates rarely if ever mention is that the city also gave developers hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure subsidies, tax breaks, and other incentives to build in the streetcar corridor. Almost no new development took place on portions of the streetcar route where developers received no additional subsidies.

The second argument is that streetcars are “quality transit,” superior to buses in terms of capacities, potential to attract riders, operating costs, and environmental quality. In fact, a typical bus has more seats than a streetcar, and a bus route can move up to five times as many people per hour, in greatercomfort, than a streetcar line. Numerous private bus operators provide successful upscale bus service in both urban and intercity settings. Streetcars cost roughly twice as much to operate, per vehicle mile, as buses. They also cost far more to build and maintain. Streetcars are no more energy efficient than buses and, at least in regions that get most electricity from burning fossil fuels, the electricity powering streetcars produces as much or more greenhouse gases and other air emissions as buses.  Based on 19th-century…

Let’s leave it to the greedbag Masters of the Universe to identify their friends who are the “engineering firms” that will bring the streetcars to Anaheim — but we already know of one, and ALREADY there’s an obvious conflict between one of the Masters’ lackeys, Steve Albert Chavez Lodge who most recently ran for and lost an Anaheim Council seat but instead stands to score nearly a $100k commission by bringing the $9.6 million streetcar design project to Hill International.  Hill’s local office is in Irvine.

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