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Does your city have a streetcar in operation, a start up or expansion planned?  Is there a pending ballot initiative to fund the project?  If you answered yes to any of these you’re not alone.  You’re joined by 35 cities in the U.S. and Canada.  In some cities our members are being transitioned for “back to the future,” jobs. In others, such as my hometown, the City has a master plan to privatize the work.

The debates have begun - what routes should be modified to accommodate a streetcar? Will doing so provide better transit?  Some argue that many cities are in a “race to waste money”.  Others ask, “Are streetcars mostly for tourists? Others point to massive project cost overruns.  Arlington, VA, being an one example where Atlantic magazine reports the cost to be “$100 million more than the county’s last projection.

All too often transit planning is an afterthought without the coordinated interest of passengers, taxpayers and developers in mind.   We know our passengers, but we must also learn and be experts on the facts, and lead our communities in the debate.

Bill Onasch, retired Local 1287-Kansas City, MO, VP recently penned an article  on the same. I share some of his thoughts below and encourage you to use the link for the full article.  It is a primer on the history of many streetcar systems. (

Retro Cool

“Streetcars are now being widely marketed as cool and ‘green.’ I don’t have any credentials for designating cool but I have some strong opinions, based on study and personal experience, about the conditions that could make streetcars useful today. While this article focuses on Kansas City, I think the basic issues and arguments are applicable throughout most of North America.

“After decades of studies; voter rejection of several past light rail proposals; voter approval of a loony tunes light rail proposal by a gadfly skilled in gathering signatures that was later tossed out by the city council; actual construction has begun on a two mile ‘starter’ streetcar line running through downtown Kansas City. Tracks are being laid at great expense on streets well served by buses. This streetcar to nowhere in particular is identical to an earlier light rail plan that the then-mayor accurately characterized as “touristy frou-frou.”

“The fact that this project has been taken on by city hall rather than the transit agency designated for the metropolitan area is a telling clue that its mission is one of taxpayer supported ‘development’ favoring the rich and famous rather than improving shamefully neglected transit service. The decision not to use Local 1287 unionized workers to operate and maintain the new streetcars is the opening salvo in a war already declared on the Amalgamated Transit Union by the city managers in many cities across the U.S.

“This devious return of the streetcar as stalking horse for greed also signifies a return to crisis for Kansas City area transit. It needs to be countered by explaining the truth to the public–and mobilizing transit workers and riders, the rest of the labor movement and environmentalists, students and senior citizens, to force the politicians to back off. Once we secure what we have, these same forces can compel action to greatly expand and improve genuine transit”.

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