The Loop Trolley and the Definition of Insanity
Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
In other news, backers of the Loop Trolley are once again asking for financial support to restart the little trolley that couldn’t. The Loop Trolley Company is asking the East-West Gateway Council of Governments—an agency that coordinates governmental action in the greater St. Louis area—for $1.26 million to restart trolley service.
The Loop Trolley has been beset with problems since the beginning. After several years of construction delays, the first cars did not hit the tracks until late 2018, two years after the scheduled opening, and even then only two cars ran four days per week. Daily service was supposed to start in April of 2019, but instead operating hours were cut later that year to only 29 hours per week with only one car running.
Why the dismal performance? Simply put, people did not want to ride the trolley. Ridership was less than 10 percent of what was expected, and its first full year of operations brought in $32,546 instead of the expected $428,672. The only way the trolley made money was by collecting $51 million in taxpayer money, nearly $34 million of which was from the federal government. After just 13 months of operation, when local governments declined to bail out the trolley one last time, the trolley shut down.
The trolley was billed as a boon to business, but all the construction and taxes levied to pay for the trolley took a toll on local businesses, as many closed or moved elsewhere. The University City government even gave out loans to businesses suffering due to problems caused by the trolley.
Backers of the trolley admit that more taxpayer money will be needed to get the trolley running again, and they expect trolley service to start again in 2022—but this time with free fares Thursday through Sunday—if the $1.26 million grant is approved.
Why would it be different this time? Will $1.26 million get the trolley to daily service? Will it finally put more than two cars on the line? Will it bring ridership over the vaunted 10 percent threshold? Based on the trolley’s track record, there’s no real reason to think the answer to any of these questions is “yes.”
After several years and $51 million of other people’s money, isn’t it time to realize that doing the same thing over and over again just won’t work?