Fort Lauderdale Streetcar a Terrible Idea, Cato Institute Says

Categories: Transportation
Streetcarsmall.jpg
Streetcar rendering
Last month, the Department of Transportation announced that it will fork over an $18 million TIGER grant for the first phase of Fort Lauderdale's proposed Wave Streetcar. The plan, which city officials have been molding since 2004, features a ten-station, 2.7-mile trolley-like system intended to shuttle folks around downtown.

Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Alcee Hastings praised the federal windfall, saying it will create jobs, promote sustainability, and make getting around downtown less horrible. But will a few shiny new street cars and information kiosks cut through a deeply ingrained driving culture and reinvent transportation?

Randal O'Toole, a scholar with libertarian think-tank the Cato Institute, says absolutely not. "I like to call it faith-based transportation planning," he tells New Times. "They don't consider reality. All the planners consider is what they wish people would do."

A report recently written by O'Toole called The Great Streetcar Conspiracy argues that streetcars, monorails, light rails, and whatever else you want to call them are an elaborate ruse concocted by engineering firms, contractors, and elected officials to bilk billions in tax dollars.

O'Toole argues that those who support these types of projects focus on two alleged benefits: that streetcars spur local economic development and that they provide service that's superior to buses. The economic development benefits, he says, are a hoax based around misleading figures often cited from Portland's rail project, which don't account for the "hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure subsidies, tax breaks, and other incentives to build in the streetcar corridor."

It's not that O'Toole is flat-out opposed to public transportation as a whole. His beef is mainly with city rail projects that carry exorbitant price tags and can't be modified after completion.

"Buses are so much better than trains in every situation except Manhattan... Buses can carry and move more people faster and for less money," he says. "Because buses can diverge routes from main corridors, they can serve a lot of different neighborhoods. With trains, it's really expensive to build rails, so they build one track and expect everyone to get off at a stop, then take a bus to their destination."

According to the Wave Streetcar project's website, the streetcar will link areas like the Riverfront with the Publix on SE Sixth Street and the North Broward Hospital District. Construction could begin in 2014 and carry a total price tag of $140 million. The developers argue that "knowing that a route will remain the same forever... allows investment to occur" in the area.

It should be noted that the Wave Streetcar's website also contains numerous references to Portland's project, which it touts as a success. However, O'Toole's report shows that public transit carried 9.8 percent of commuters in Portland when it consisted only of buses. After adding the light rails, 7.1 percent of commuters used Portland's transit services.

"Do Fort Lauderdale officials know that they'll have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to get the level of redevelopment they think will come from the streetcar?" O'Toole asks. "Or are they just building it because the federal government agreed to pay X percent and they don't want to lose that federal funding?"



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8 comments
Afi Keita James
Afi Keita James

The Cato Institute has got a point, more government spending is not the answer.

Afi Keita James
Afi Keita James

 Thank god the free market should decide this. spending, especially government spending is out of control.

NJ R
NJ R

Cato Institute aside--I hold no love for them--they have a point; trolleys and other devices can expensively spin people (read: tourists) downtowns, but what they fail to do is add use to regional transit. They're the functional equivialent of the Disney monorail--picturesque and little else.  Worse, should the bloom ever fade from that rose (Metrorail, anyone?) we're stuck pouring money into a hard asset that will neither pay for itself nor adapt well to an alternative use. If you really want to support transit, support plans that make transit more useful to more people: better planning, more routes, more rational routes, more frequency. Get people from where they are to where they want and need to go, and let's leave the thrill rides to the theme parks.

waverunner
waverunner

Light rail is not the answer.  Yes LA had a great street car system that GMC and city governement eliminated, but this was a long time ago. When light rail is introduced into cities, it has caused serious accidents has not been cost effective and has lower than anticipated ridership.  Connecting the airport and cruiseport would might have advantages and selected other projects but most downtown projects are pure waste.  Today, hybrid busses, natural gas busses and bike exhange programs are more cost effective first steps...

Reelstate
Reelstate

Trolleys stupid, trolleys...cheaper, more flexible in routes...Trolleys

R. D. M.
R. D. M.

trains are too communist for any conservative, all people sharing the same vehicle? how gross!

Bhat Mon
Bhat Mon

This amazes me. Take Las Olas for instance: parking on the street will be eliminated, there is no room, the street will be closed to traffic for a long time while under construction. Businesses and residents of the area will suffer greatly. This is a tremendous waste of money an a nuisance.

Bob
Bob

 unfortunately the congress has passed a law banning public transportation from lobbying.. Otoole is no scholar he has a degree in forestry! and he is bought and paid for by the oil industry. and lives so far out into the wilds of Oregon that the nearest bus is many many miles away.    follow the money. what he proclaims as an advantage of buses, "flexibility" is actually their biggest flaw, people don't want their public transit to "go away"  rails are "stability" and organizations like the Transportation Research Board with peer reviewed documentation shows at least 30% greater ridership minimum on rail vs bus. otoole likes to lie with numbers, his percentages don't take into account the vast growth of  the Portland area,. I've been there and I will take the "devestation" he says happened where the streetcar runs on my street anytime. Bob

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