What happened to the downtown trolleys?

Image credit: Pixabay

Just under a year ago, Kevin Whited posted, on his personal blog, this news story about Metro’s plan for its transit services to better serve the light rail:

Laid out in the presentation are pages with maps of transit services that will be eliminated, or modified so that the routes feed into the METRO rail.

“The plan is designed to integrate the rail system with the overall transit system, to make the maximum use of both buses and rail,” said METRO spokesperson Ken Connaughton.

Part of the plan is to eliminate all of the routes of the downtown trolleys.

Then yesterday Lucas Wall told us this:

Metro has sold six surplus trolley buses to Capital Metro in Austin, illustrating the waning of downtown circulator routes served by the special vehicles designed to resemble old-fashion streetcars.

Well, what happened to the trolleys?

The passenger count has waned in recent years, however, despite the continued churn of street and light rail construction. Last June, with boardings down to about 3,200 per weekday and trains running on Main Street, the authority decided to consolidate the trolley routes from six to three and remove night and Saturday service.

Even fewer riders used the new routes. On Nov. 1, Metro cut them down to two and reduced the hours even further. For the first time, a fare was established — 50 cents, exact change only.

Those curtailments have produced lower ridership figures, and all downtown trolleys are now on the chopping block as the long-awaited end to transit-street construction nears.

Gosh, that’s strange: cut routes, cut service, add a fare and the people aren’t flocking to it. Go figure.

And does Wall ask Metro about the plan from a year ago to eliminate the trolley? It doesn’t look like it:

“The downtown trolley program was designed to compensate people downtown for the disruptions caused by reconstruction of the transit streets,” said Metro Chairman David Wolff. “The trolleys might not be a permanent fixture.”

Wolff described the recent passenger counts as “really anemic.” Under Metro’s business philosophy, routes low in demand will be slashed.

“If the demand were there,” Wolff said, “people would be on them.”

Metro’s chairman just says that ridership is anemic and demand isn’t there.

You know, if the average Houston reader hasn’t been paying attention to the MetroRail story in great detail, he or she might assume that trolley ridership has just mysteriously dried up. Because Wall sure doesn’t let on that eliminating the trolleys was actually a part of Metro’s plan.

CALLIE MARKANTONIS ADDS: Why does it seem as if the Chron unquestioningly accepts Metro’s account–unquestioningly accepting ridership figures, unquestioningly accepting statements about the lack of usage of the new, Metro-Rail-inspired trolley routes–to the point where it will even erroneously attack local elected officials on its behalf (Culberson and Delay) when the agency is clearly culpable, etc., but does take HISD and CPS and the District Attorney’s office to task on matters large or small, imaginary or real?

No other governmental entity garners such cushy coverage. Why?


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About Anne Linehan 2323 Articles
Anne Linehan is a co-founder of blogHOUSTON.