Will Columbia revisit folly of trolleys?

Five years after Columbia mercifully killed off its moribund trolley system, there is discussion of resurrecting the money-losing mass transit scheme.

Richland County Council is gearing up to let voters decide this November whether to raise the sales tax by one percent to fund transportation projects and the bus system, according to the (Columbia) Free Times.

“And with transportation on the table, Ric Luber, head of the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports and Tourism, has a request: Bring back the trolleys,” reports the Free Times.

“The 3 million tourists a year who come to Columbia need a way to get around the downtown areas, Luber says. And workers could use them, too. He’s proposed three compact routes that would run between Five Points, the Vista and Main Street. The idea is supported by many businesses in those areas. Outgoing Mayor Bob Coble also supports a trolley plan.”

How bad an idea is this? Five years ago, The State paper, which has long promoted mass transit, called for the trolleys to be discontinued.

At the time, the six trolleys, which cost about $600,000 a year to operate, averaged only about 69 rides per day at $1 a fare.

“Considering most riders take a round trip, it’s safe to assume only about 34 riders each day,” the paper wrote. “That’s not supportable. … they certainly aren’t a viable form of mass transit and don’t deserve continued funding.

“The trolleys, which began operating in 1997, have had plenty of time to prove themselves,” the paper added at the time. “They have always been largely empty.”

Mitzi Javers, head of the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority, told the Free Times that the city always lost money on the trolleys.

“We made a lot of service changes and improvements” through the years, she said, “and it still did not justify the cost of operation.”

Javers estimates it would take $120,000 to refurbish four of the six trolleys and bring them back to operating condition.

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