As momentum builds for work starting on a streetcar system, there are discussions going on behind the scenes as to whether the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority should actually be in charge of the operation. The thinking among some critics is that this city trust has done a poor job with the rubber tire trolley system created through the original MAPS initiative and isn’t winning rave reviews for its approximately half-century operation of the city’s bus system or the more recently launched river cruisers.
But the following article brought to our attention by planning consultant Otis Wright reminds us that history is filled with examples of private operation of public transit that don’t exactly work out as well as hoped for passengers and taxpayers. Oklahoma City’s own history with streetcars is looked back on fondly, but also had its ugly moments as detailed extensively by Oklahoma City’s beloved history blogger Doug Loudenback.
With all that mind, the question comes up: is the criticism of COTPA fair? Well, yes and no. I covered the Oklahoma Spirit trolleys from their launch on, and originally ridership was quite high. But the trolleys also were saddled with routes created through sheer political will – routes to the I-40/Meridian corridor that averaged 11 passengers a day (yes! think about that!) and yet couldn’t be killed without facing a backlash from politically connected hoteliers. So the system from the get-go faced a drain on resources, and then the agency, trying to please everybody, pleased no one by frequently changing routes, stop times, and ultimately leaving passengers in the dark by yanking schedule and map signs that provided people a clue as to when the trolleys might stop, and where they might go (to my knowledge the signs are still not back up).
Early on I asked former transit director Randy Hume if signs might be added to the entryway of the trolleys to provide people a better idea on the route and attractions hit by the trolleys. Such signage was used, very effectively in my mind, when I used similar trolleys in San Antonio.
Hume said it was a possibility – one that was never mentioned again.
So what do you folks think? Do you ride the trolleys today? (note: they’re now free, an idea that was brushed aside when the trolleys first hit the street). Will you ride the streetcars? How would you like to see them operated?