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The Right Note: Who Could (Not) Have Predicted This?

by Mark Kelly October 23, 2014 at 1:00 pm 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyThe Washington, D.C., streetcar is finally up and running in a limited, testing phase. According to this Washington Post story on the new line, it is not going so well.

It seems the first cars “running east of Union Station, have snarled traffic and been in two minor accidents.”

If you have ever driven on Columbia Pike during rush hour, you know traffic conditions will not be any better in Arlington with fixed rail cars running in the same lane as cars and buses.

Second, buses in D.C. are facing significant delays behind the streetcars, and are having to go around the streetcars to stay on schedule.

According to County plans, the Arlington streetcars will only supplement bus service, meaning our buses along the Pike will likely also have to navigate around the light rail. And, in not so good news for Arlington commuters, the streetcars may actually be even slower than buses at getting you to work. This does not include the time it takes you to get to the Pentagon if you need to catch a bus, as the the line will not go directly there.

Third, while D.C. planned to charge $1 or more per ride, “DDOT has determined that fares will not be collected at the start of revenue service.”

D.C. needs to entice riders since ridership is already projected to be “underwhelming” according to the story. Not that D.C. could charge a fare yet, they still don’t have the system in place to do so.

We were told that people would naturally want to ride the new streetcars along Columbia Pike, but communities across the country are having issues with paid ridership. The very real possibility exists that Arlingtonians will not only have to subsidize some portion of each ride forever, we may get to foot the whole bill (at least during a “rider attraction” phase). Of course, instituting a charge for a previously “free” service becomes more difficult later.

The bottom line is we can look across the river at what not to do. Supporters will probably say we can learn from their mistakes, but similar problems continue wherever this transit experiment has been tried.

Fortunately for us, we have only wasted a small percentage of the total cost thus far. We can still stop it. Two Columbia Pike streetcar proponents are on the ballot next year. The results of the Nov. 4 election may intensify the pressure on them to have a change of heart before it’s too late.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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