For Madison residents, the festive downtown trolleys driving up and down State Street offer a fun alternative to the bus system. But some Madisonians are concerned about potential tax increases as officials investigate more permanent rail transportation options for downtown Madison.
The proposed streetcar system, already thoroughly researched for some areas, would consist of routes that target the Madison area while concentrating on downtown transportation. George Twigg, spokesperson for Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, said that by implementing a trolley system, the city would be able to reduce pollution and advance economically.
"One of the myths about streetcars is the idea that they'll compete with the bus system," Twigg said. "And actually, what has been shown to happen is that some people are attracted to the streetcars while not attracted to buses, and after the use of public transportation these people will want to use the buses as well."
But third-generation Madisonian Mike Roach said he believes this illegitimate use of taxes should not be supported.
"We already have a very effective bus service in this town," Roach said. "Why have trolley systems that will only take away riders from that service while spending even more of the taxpayers' money?"
According to Tom Rubin, a self-employed transportation consultant and former chief financial officer for the third-largest transit agency in the United States, trolley systems can and have historically been effective, but must be installed in the correct environment.
"Streetcars are generally tourist things instead of transportation systems," Rubin said. "But streetcar systems such as the one in place in Portland have been somewhat successful."
According to Rubin, the trolley system used in Portland, Ore., was originally a five-mile, one-way loop that now boasts a daily use totaling around 9,000 passengers.
Twigg also mentioned the Portland system and said it has actually increased the number of transit users. He added the system has helped the city economically by providing more customer traffic around the trolley drop-off and pick-up sites.
Even with examples of success, such as the system found in Portland, Rubin said that a trolley system will result in a transportation problem instead of a solution.
Rubin said one fault is the need for a maintenance site for the trolley system. This location would need to include rails if they decided to implement a fixed rail system, and would also require other resources that the city currently does not have.
Supporters of the trolley system believe that the system will help reduce automobile traffic by providing transportation to citizens in the downtown area. However, Roach said the system will only help to complicate downtown traffic due to the "clogging" effect the trolley system could have on the bikes and beer trucks already on State Street.
The city will continue discussion of the system, and Twigg said he encourages the community to come and provide input.
"Trolley systems — like buses and light rails — are all tools," Rubin said. "And what you need is people who know what tools to use in what situations while also studying the different [transportation] options before making a decision."