Progressive Innovation Means Turning Back Progress

By David Pascoe, JD/MBA

The transit options for twin-cities residents are lackluster at best. Infrequent busses, traffic gridlock, and a few light rail lines demand a solution. Unfortunately when the leaders in power put their heads together their marquee project is: a streetcar line.

I won’t go into all the details on why a streetcar line is bad. Just ask Minneapolis Board of Estimate and Taxation member Carol Becker or former Minneapolis mayoral candidate Cam Winton and they’ll tell you all the point by point negatives. In general streetcars are inflexible, slow, and vastly more expensive than other projects.

They are popular because they are a vanity item for city officials (no one wants their name on a bus stop). Streetcars are a nice boondoggle for connected construction companies. They are also a bit of corporate welfare to real estate developers who can buy up property along a proposed route.

I understand that busses have several negative connotations, but would it not be worth it to try and change that? Busses are relatively inexpensive and extremely flexible modes of transit. What if a city like Minneapolis decided to be a trend-setter instead of following a streetcar full of lemmings off a cliff?

First, busses on downtown routes could be-redesigned to look like...streetcars. All the kitschy vanity you want at a fraction of the cost! On the inside they could be redesigned to look like a train-car with several access/egress points. All of the money that would have been dumped into a streetcar line could go towards building bus shelters in less frequented areas, and these new shelters could be equipped with a system tracking the next bus’s arrival time.

I did not enjoy waiting for a late 17D bus on a street corner in mid-January. I think we can do better.

The major issue preventing a bus renaissance is the perception that busses are for less affluent people. Trendy twenty-somethings (and want-to-be twenty-somethings) desire sleek and modern. We could make that happen. Unfortunately, instead of modernizing the most cost-effective transit system, we’ve been sold the lazy lie that a 100+ year old technology is the best hope for the future.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m putting a spoiler, racing stripes, and some futuristic sound effects on my covered wagon so I can sell it to the MET Council for a billion dollars.