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Heritage Trolley Site
Hosted by the Seashore Trolley Museum

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Benefits of Streetcar Lines

Denotes permanence

Investing in the fixed facilities needed for an electric, rail-based streetcar system conveys to potential passengers, investors, and visitors that a permanent commitment has been made to provide transportation to the area. This can have important psychological benefits that tend to make positive contributions to urban development. The following is a statement prepared by a transit advocacy group relating to the potential return of light rail to the suspended Arborway streetcar line in Boston:

 “The investment in construction of a permanent way, such as a street railway, conveys a long-term commitment to provide a high quality service now and into the future. Bus options, making no such commitment, are too easily rerouted or curtailed. The presence of such permanent facilities has demonstrated tangible, positive, private sector economic and social spin off effects. Real estate values in Brookline, Milton, and Newton (MA), would be just such an example, as well as the enduring popularity that light rail has in these localities. Often overlooked is the psychological factor where public facilities are concerned. Consider how many government and private institutions conduct their business in structures made of large stone blocks, or other durable materials. This serves to reassure the general public with an appearance of stability and endurance through the ages. No doubt it would have been more cost effective to place several trailers or tin sheds in an asphalt parking lot in lieu of the current Boston City Hall and plaza, but what does it say about our civilization? A street tramway conveys these same characteristics the public want so see preserved in our public facilities. Tramways can and do function in many places as a mobile traffic calming device, making the streetscape more pedestrian friendly.” – Fred R. Moore, Association for Public Transportation, Saugus, MA, June 2001

Inspires economic development

The permanent commitment demonstrated by the rails and overhead wire conveys to potential investors and residents that transportation will be available. Cities such as Portland, Memphis, and Tampa report strong developer interest along streetcar lines, in some cases even before the line has opened. Both residential and commercial developments can benefit from the certainty that rail transit will be available. In Tampa, businesses have been so convinced of the benefits that heritage trolleys will provide that many have made financial contributions to the construction and/or operating costs of the line.

A Tampa report states: “Just the announcement that the [heritage trolley] project was going to be implemented has resulted in heightened development activity all along the corridor. An estimated $800 million in new development is either currently under way or will be under way before completion of construction of the line. This includes approximately 1,600 units of upscale high-density residential development never contemplated at the time that the project was in the development phase.” (See Tampa Project Description).

Provides mobility in a downtown area

People enjoy riding streetcars and can be lured from their automobiles by reliable, frequent service on heritage trolleys or modern streetcars. Motorists are more inclined to park at the edge of a downtown area if they know they can be transported to and from the parking area by an attractive an enjoyable ride on a rail vehicle. For visitors to a downtown, the radius of the area they can visit easily expands considerably if there is visible and frequent streetcar transportation. Workers in the downtown area can find the area available for lunchtime errands or restaurant destinations to be considerably expanded by use of the streetcar, and the ride becomes part of the experience.

Attracts riders

Evidence from across North America and around the world shows that many more people will ride rail transit than buses. Anecdotal evidence of this so-called “rail effect” abounds, and the following well-researched study documents the effect over the second half of the 20th century. The results are summarized here, followed by a link to the complete study:

The Transportation Research Board Special Report No. 1221, “Impact on Transit Patronage of Cessation or Inauguration of Rail Service” dated 1989, and authored by transportation researcher Edson L. Tennsyson concluded the following:

“Because transit use is a function of travel time, fare, frequency of service, population, and density, increased transit use can not be attributed to rail transit when these other factors are improved. When these service conditions are equal, it is evident that rail transit is likely to attract from 34 to 43 percent more riders than will equivalent bus service. The data do not provide explanations for this phenomenon, but other studies and reports suggest that the clearly identifiable rail route; delineated stops that are often protected; more stable, safer, and more comfortable vehicles; freedom from fumes and excessive noise; and more generous vehicle dimensions may all be factors.”

Click on this link,  Transportation Research Record 1221, for the full text of this research report

In San Francisco, the 8-Market electric trolley bus line was replaced by 50-year old heritage trolleys, renamed as the F-line, running over the identical route in the mid 1990s by the Municipal Railway of San Francisco (Muni). According to the agency’s own figures, in September 1994, the route 8 trolley bus averaged 5,813 riders per day. By November of 1997, the heritage trolleys on the same route were averaging 7,896 riders per day over the identical route, a 35% increase. Ridership has grown steadily since then and, including the Embarcadero extension, now is reported to exceed 20,000 per day. The Muni is hard pressed to run enough cars to meet the demand. The F-line service is one of the most popular services offered by the agency among both residents and tourists, and other parts of the city are requesting that heritage trolleys be extended to their neighborhoods as well.

Heritage trolleys connect people with history

Using a simple, reliable form of transit from 50 or 100 years ago can bring history to life for 21st century Americans. More than viewing photographs, movies, or reading about transportation in earlier periods, actually using a heritage trolley for transportation can create a far deeper understanding of the experiences of bygone eras. If the heritage trolley line provides an opportunity for historical education as part of the riding experience—by means of photos and descriptions posted in advertising space inside the car, by brochures available for riders to take, by means of interpretive staff traveling on the car, or by special interpretive tours using museum cars—then the riding experience can reach an even more meaningful level.

Can be a first step toward light rail or commuter rail in a metropolitan area

In Memphis and Tampa, implementing a heritage trolley system has been considered a relatively inexpensive and attractive means of demonstrating the viability of urban rail that later could be expanded into a light rail network serving a larger part of the metropolitan area. Careful design of the track and facilities so that they can be used or adapted for light rail can provide important future opportunities.

Click on the following link for an article summarizing benefits of the Little Rock heritage trolley system:

Quantified Benefits

Putting dollar figures to benefits has been one of the most desired but elusive pieces of information for those  planning heritage trolley or streetcar systems. Follow this link for a table containing some estimated dollar benefits.

Comprehensive documentation

In late 2006 a thorough study of streetcars and their economic benefits was published by Reconnecting America, with the active participation of this site's sponsors. This book includes the first comprehensive documentation of realized benefits from new generation streetcar systems. It is a must for anyone interested in advancing plans for enhanced urban mobility and economic redevelopment. Follow this link for ordering information from the Seashore Trolley Museum store.


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