We’ve got a soft spot for trolleys going back to our days watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. But just like in the world of PBS fund drives, when the money train goes off the tracks, it’s time to adjust.
Oak Park has worked hard to get some sort of deal-grant, earmark, tag-on, call it what you will-for trolleys that during 2009 would replace the village’s current, non-descript passenger shuttles. The theory, as put forward by village staff, is that the picturesque trolleys would attract more riders than the shuttle. That would be a good thing since shuttle ridership has begun a decline from a very modest peak. Staff helpfully pointed out that three recent village-commissioned studies have cited “the benefits and appeal of a trolley-based system.”
Having previously stipulated to the charm of a “trolley-based system,” we’d bet our hitching thumb that the consultants referenced never took a hard look at the cost per ride that either the shuttle or a trolley would present to the local taxpayers left to foot the bill for operating any sort of “community circulator service.”
As we’ve noted previously on this page, the per-person cost of taking a spin on the shuttle was $5.68 this year. Better to have people support the privately funded Blue Cab Co. than for taxpayers to subsidize these costs.
Last week, trustees Jon Hale and John Hedges spoke out clearly and said that, with gaping budget shortfalls confronting the village, further investments in a shuttle-trolley could not be justified. We agree completely. The discovery that the shuttle subsidy has been coming out of the bankrupted village parking fund only adds to our certainty that this is an unjustifiable expense at a time when tough decisions must be made.
The ding-ding-ding of the trolley’s bell is sounding more like the dinged-dinged-dinged of the overburdened taxpayer.
Opinions to spare
Let’s re-open the discussion of adding bread vendors to the Oak Park Farmers’ Market. But first let us poke this stick in our eye. Ah, that’s better.
The market is one of Oak Park’s great institutions. But it isn’t made better by adding bread or meat or arts and crafts. That seemed to have been settled after the eruption following an out-of-town baker’s arrival at the market. The many local bakeries trying to sell their wares through bricks-and-mortar locations on which they paid heavy taxes rightly objected to the intrusion. Same argument stands.
Kudos to Doris Weinbaum, who opened Bead in Hand on Harrison Street 15 years ago. That would have been the Dark Period on Harrison, the long interregnum between the street actually being filled with small grocers and meat markets and bakeries and its gradual reincarnation as an arts destination. Bead in Hand led the way to Harrison’s new purpose.
On the other hand, we’re getting annoyed by the “We’re moving to the Internet” sign in the window of the eventually decamping Rocking Horse boutique on Marion Street. We’ve admired the determined efforts of the shop’s owner over the years, but the sign’s message seems to be that the Web is a superior shopping experience. And while it has things to recommend it, so does the opportunity to stroll Marion Street, finger the goods, get personal service and make a face-to-face purchase.