The Legendary Loop Trolley Saga Continues
A familiar sentence for St. Louis residents: The Loop Trolley is back in the news! Show-Me Institute analysts have been covering this issue for a long time, and lucky for you all, a new chapter is now unfolding.
In addition to the $51 million that has already been spent on the Loop Trolley project, the East-West Gateway Council of Governments has recently decided to approve an additional $1.2 million of spending from federal grant funds and an additional $540,000 local match.
While St. Louis residents may want government officials to abandon this project that has been characterized by incompetence and countless setbacks, the cheapest solution for taxpayers is actually for the trolley to run. The federal government has threatened to demand repayment of $37 million in grants given to St. Louis if the trolley stops running. Abandoning this project does not mean that taxpayers would abandon paying for it. Because of this potential clawback, city officials argue this additional funding is necessary for sustaining the trolley and avoiding a bigger financial blow.
Despite concerns about self-sustainability, trolley tickets have been free to riders since its re-opening on August 4th. Although I understand that making tickets free could boost popularity by attracting people to try the trolley, there needs to be a long-term economic plan if it will truly be self-sustaining.
Trolley officials should seek to maximize profit with methods such as ticket prices, advertisements, renting to private parties (Nashville does this often), and possibly even filming for commercials and movies/TV shows. The goal should be to reduce the burden on taxpayers—who have already paid entirely too much for this project—as much as possible.
Like it or not, the Loop Trolley is most likely a long-term part of St. Louis’s future. However, it does not need to be a long-term drain on taxpayer funds. A plan for self-sustainability through trolley revenue is a necessary next step.