Loop Trolley hours of operation set, but fares still unknown

The Loop Trolley remains on target to open this spring, although some details — such as the fare amount — have yet to be pinned down.

Chris Poehler, administrator of the Loop Trolley Transportation Development District, and Les Sterman, president of the Loop Trolley Company, gave an update on the project Thursday at a Citizens for Modern Transit event.

Construction on the 2.2-mile electric trolley line began in earnest in the spring of 2015. In the Loop, the trolley will share Delmar Boulevard with cars, similar to a bus, pulling out of traffic at designated stops.

It will run on a single track in the center median east of the Pageant on Delmar and will head south onto DeBaliviere, continuing on a single track on the east side within a new greenway. It will stop and reverse direction at the Missouri History Museum.

The trolley’s cost originally was estimated to be $43 million, but climbed to $51 million due in part to street paving and landscaping costs.

Supporters say the trolley is spurring development and will be a boon for businesses when it brings in visitors. They also say that even with the additional costs, the trolley is being built for significantly less than streetcar lines in other cities.

Critics say the trolley duplicates existing mass transit — a MetroLink line runs between the Forest Park and Delmar stations — and that the project’s cost is too high. Businesses were hurt by construction, spurring a forgivable loans program.

But the project has soldiered on, and plans are being made for its opening.

The trolley is set to run from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and from 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, with 20 minutes between each car, Poehler said Thursday.

The Loop Trolley district owns the trolley. Its board is St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, University City Mayor Shelley Welsch, County Executive Steve Stenger, Bi-State President and Chief Executive Officer John Nations and Loop businessman Joe Edwards.

The Loop Trolley Company is a separate entity. It’s a nonprofit organization that will operate the trolley.

Almost all of the tracks — 98 percent — have been laid, Poehler said. Officials plan to start testing the trolleys on those tracks in November.

“It has been a long time since streetcars have been in St. Louis, so we have to learn how to do it all over again,” Sterman said. The last day of streetcar service in St. Louis was May 21, 1966, the end of a 107-year run. Remnants of the old line that ran on Delmar have been found during construction of the new trolley line.

The largest revenue source for the trolley will be the 1-cent sales tax being paid by customers to businesses along the trolley line. That’s generating about $800,000 a year, Sterman said. Fares, advertising and fundraising also will fund trolley operations.

No long-term debt has been incurred, and no money has been taken from Metro Transit. It’s hoped the trolley will break even in three years, Sterman said.

The fare structure is likely to be similar to what Metro Transit charges, Sterman said. MetroLink’s base fare is $2.50, and a two-hour systemwide pass is $3.

The goal also is to make Metro tickets transferrable to the trolley, although that comes with challenges such as how to divide revenue, Sterman said. And such a system would need to be integrated with the Gateway Card, a smart-card system that Metro is working on to eventually replace paper tickets, passes and transfers on MetroLink and buses.

The trolley is expected to employ six full-time people, and 14 to 16 part-time employees, including trolley drivers.

Trolley opponents last year filed a lawsuit in St. Louis County Circuit Court seeking to block the trolley. The suit contends the trolley will go beyond its authorized boundaries. No ruling has been issued.

Such opposition is something Sterman, a past executive director of the East-West-Council of Governments, knows well — he was key in getting the original MetroLink line built in 1993.

“The Loop Trolley is reminiscent of that experience,” he said. “It’s something that St. Louisans were skeptical about. They thought it cost too much money and that there were other things we could be doing with the money.”

He cited today’s widespread support for light-rail, and said he expects the trolley to be a success as well.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch © September 2016

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