Streetcar not moving forward

After a city council meeting last night, Ogden City has decided not to move forward with the streetcar initiative.

The proposed streetcar would leave from the Ogden Transit Center, stop at Weber State University and finish its route at McKay-Dee Hospital, and would cost the city and its taxpayers about $160 million.

“Right now, the city council has requested a pause from the stakeholder group until they can go back and do additional work,” said Gerry Carpenter, spokesman for Utah Transit Authority. “Without the support of the city — if it is, in fact, dead — that certainly reduces the chances of going forward, but, I mean, it doesn’t mean it’s never going to happen. You know, elected officials come and go, and future administration, future city councils may change their minds and decide that they do need to go forward.”

The stakeholders in the project besides UTA and WSU include Ogden City, Intermountain Health Care, Ogden-Weber Chamber of Commerce, Utah Department of Transportation and Wasatch Front Regional Council.

Carpenter said UTA studies have found that the rail-based system a streetcar or train uses attracts a bigger ridership than buses do.

“One thing is people feel more comfortable riding trains than they do buses. For one thing, they know where it’s going to go, because they know where the tracks go . . . Sometimes a bus might be on detour, or if you get on the wrong bus you’ll end up in North Ogden, and so there’s a comfort level that comes from riding rail that’s higher than riding buses. Also, rail is more attractive to many patrons — it’s fun to ride the train; it’s not fun to ride the bus.”

Carpenter said another major advantage is greater economic development, as many business owners prefer to buy sites near TRAX stops. Bus routes are subject to change, so Carpenter said their stops are not as big a draw for businesses. However, it also costs more to build tracks and buy trains than it does to buy another bus.

Norm Tarbox, vice president for administrative services at WSU, said he is very much in favor of the streetcar.

“All you have to do is see what’s happened to the University of Utah over the last 15 years with mass transit to see what a streetcar could mean to Weber State,” he said. “If you go back to the mid-1990s, there were maybe a few hundred students taking mass transit to the University of Utah every day. And now, depending on the semester, that number has climbed up to as many as a third of the day trips to the University of Utah are accomplished using mass transit, so that’s thousands of day trips.”

Tarbox said there are now at least three TRAX stops right on the U of U campus, and that there are similar hopes for WSU if the rail were to be built. A streetcar would also eliminate the need for the WSU Shuttle Bus, he said.

“I believe UTA when they say the price tag is doable for this type of service, (and) it’s something that our community can get accomplished. And since it is such an important investment, Weber State has been an active participant, and we’re anxious to see the project happen.”

Marrisela Lopez and her sister Margarita, both sophomores at WSU, live in Roy and don’t have cars of their own, so, like many of WSU’s students, they depend on public transit to get to school. Every morning they take the FrontRunner and Bus 603 to get to school. Marrisela said they would prefer a streetcar to the bus.

“I would like that,” she said, “because the buses tend, especially when it’s spring or fall semester, they tend to get really crowded. And at least, if they would have something like that, it would probably have more cars.”

According to Carpenter, the streetcar is still a future possibility, up for review by future council members, but for now, the city has put the project on hiatus.

“We do know that there’s a need there, we do know there’s a desire there on the part of all stakeholders, but ultimately, we need to come to a consensus, and the time and funding to make it happen — and it will happen someday,” he said. “But until we have a consensus and a career plan, we can’t move forward, and that’s where we’re at today.”