The Loop Trolley, born out of fantasy and nostalgia, is in danger of returning to that ethereal plane.
The agency behind the circuitous street car has told St. Louis County it needs $200,000 to stay solvent through November, followed by another $500,000 shortly after to keep operating into 2020, according to a letter from County Executive Sam Page to the county council.
The trolley has struggled from the start of the $52 million project, opening years behind schedule
. It then bumbled through permitting issues that briefly sidelined it, the occasional collision
and a variety of other miscues
Still, the trolley might have overcome all those growing pains if it wasn't for one much larger problem: Not many people want to ride it
. Projections for the number of riders turned out to be wildly overestimated. The St. Louis Business-Journal reported this week
that ticket sales totaled $32,456 — not quite the estimates of more than $400,000 in fares.
In Page's letter (shared by Councilman Tim Fitch this morning on Twitter), the county executive described the trolley as "an ambitious idea" and sums up its potential collapse in this way: "Allowing such an expensive project to fail so quickly would be a disappointment and could have a wide-ranging impact on future transportation projects."
That's because the federal government kicked in $33.9 million, and if all that money goes to waste, St. Louis is going to have a harder time persuading the feds to trust it with funding for other projects.
The Loop Trolley didn't immediately respond to RFT's
request for comment, but other outlets reported that a spokesman confirmed it could shut down on November 15 without the county's investment. (Update: The Loop Trolley has responded. Find the full statement below.)
Page says in his letter he wouldn't support spending the money unless other stakeholders, such as the city, kick in cash as well. But Page says trolley officials claim the city is not interested.
Here is the full statement from Loop Trolley Company Board President John Meyer Jr.:
In September, the Loop Trolley Company requested $200,000 immediately from the St. Louis County Transit Fund to keep the trolley system operating for the remainder of 2019 and $500,000 for calendar year 2020. The Loop Trolley Company will be forced to stop operating the trolleys as soon as November 15 if it does not receive funding help. To extend operations as long as possible, we are beginning to reduce service starting next week.
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This decision was not made lightly. While the idea of the Loop Trolley was ambitious and has not been without its challenges, it is here. The cars are refurbished and the track is installed. St. Louis was one of six cities, of 65 that applied, to win federal transit funding. The Loop Trolley has yet to operate at its full potential as we are still waiting to roll out our third car and operate seven days a week. Funding from the St. Louis County Transit Fund will give us that chance. It will allow us to reach our full capacity, and put us on track to deliver the service and achieve the goals we originally planned for.
On behalf of the Loop Trolley Company’s staff, board of directors and supporters, it has been a joy seeing streetcars come back to life in St. Louis, hearing the stories and seeing the smiles of our passengers. Thank you for your support, encouragement and enthusiasm for transit in our communities.
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