The Newnan Times-Herald

Opinion

Careful consideration needed before launching trolley


  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Sep. 03, 2016 - 7:43 AM

A project slipped into the last sales-tax referendum here was the purchase of a trolley, or rather a small bus designed to look like a trolley of old. The project has been stalled for years because Newnan officials haven’t figured out what to do with it or how to make it pay for itself.

Their puzzlement may serve as a warning that the idea of a trolley has flat tires.

The goal is to link the city’s two main retail centers, Ashley Park and downtown, perhaps along the proposed McIntosh Parkway. Many visitors to one never venture to the other now, including the East Coweta and Fayette County residents who frequent the newfangled lifestyle shopping center and the tourists who stroll through shops clustered around the courthouse square.

It is a laudable goal. Both shopping areas have their charms, and surely those drawn to one would enjoy the other.

But not necessarily.

What Ashley Park offers are chain stores with familiar names and products, something that appeals to certain consumers who want to fit in with their friends. What downtown offers is independent merchants with unique items, something that appeals to consumers who concentrate on value and originality.

While there are indeed downtown stores with brand-name merchandise and shopping-center stores with specialty items, for the most part the two locations occupy separate niches.

Transportation between the two shopping areas is not what is keeping the two groups of consumers apart.

Actually, the visitors to Senoia and downtown Newnan are more likely to be in the same frame of mind. Perhaps the route should go there.

We illustrated our front-page news story about the trolley proposal with a photograph of a real trolley, a cable car from San Francisco. Tourists to the windy city by the bay enjoy hopping on one for the experience of heart-stopping excitement bounding up and down hilly streets as cars whiz by on both sides. A ride also affords good sightseeing.

It would be almost criminal to visit San Francisco and not ride one, like going to New York and never seeing the Empire State Building. But few people ride cable cars strictly for transportation. Indeed, many simply ride to the end of the line, help rotate it on the turntable and ride back to where they started.

Other cities have had mixed luck with their own trolley attempts, most notably the Atlanta Streetcar. Prudently, Newnan officials aren’t contemplating a fixed-rail system like Atlanta’s $98-million Streetcar but rather a rubber-tired bus that could go anywhere, including charters for weddings, tours of homes and other special uses.

Still, the Streetcar has little ridership despite a route that links some hefty attractions like the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Center and Historic Site, the Center for Civil and Human Rights, the Georgia Aquarium, Centennial Olympic Park and the College Football Hall of Fame. If those well-attended sites can’t sustain a transit system, would our local offerings?

The money for the trolley itself is already committed. The hitch is funding the drivers and fuel.

Judging from the comments of our readers, the public is skeptical of the idea despite voter approval of the referendum that financed the trolley’s purchase. The city still has plenty of work to do to demonstrate the value of its operation.