I belong to the National Streetcar Coalition, which pushes policies favorable to the return of streetcars throughout the nation. Each month we hold a conference call with member participants who explain what is happening in their communities. This month I was blown away at the level of activity from one end of the country to the other. Portland, Oregon is the poster child for a successful streetcar system. Intersecting with Portland's prolific light-rail system this eight-mile modern streetcar line has attracted over 100 other communities in the USA and even foreign countries which are looking to bring back streetcars.
Despite an extraordinarily well run streetcar line, which has attracted $3.5 billion in stipulated investment which would not have occurred without the streetcar, the George W. Bush Administration refuses to partially fund a new line to the other side of town. Mind you, these investment properties have voted to voluntarily tax themselves to support the operation of the car line. So what is the Bush Administration pushing? So-called bus rapid transit. In fact, despite the legislative history of the small-starts program which was established to fund starter streetcar lines, the Bush Administration Department of Transportation authorities will have none of it. They only fund bus rapid transit. In fact, they have a whole unit limited to promotion of one mode. They do not do this for any other technology. They hold conferences. They have staff that goes on location to push bus rapid transit. They have a web page devoted solely to bus rapid transit. There is only one problem. People don't like to ride buses. They will tolerate riding a bus that feeds a rail line but they really don't buy what the Administration is pushing.
Many communities are funding starter streetcar lines on their own. That is well and good but the elitist "public be damned" attitude of the Bush Administration is reprehensible. The Federal Transit Administrator seems to be reasonably in favor of streetcars. But someone is giving him orders not to fund rail. There is an irony in the current campaign to do away with earmarks. The current law requires Congress to earmark funds for transit projects. If earmarks are abolished, and I certainly am no defender of the earmark practice, should Congress violate the law and not set aside money for transit projects? That presently is the only way rail projects are funded.