To the Editor:
In response to the letter to the editor entitled “Keep the Trolley Free” (March 11, 2010) by Ms. Tina Leone: Many trolley supporters continue to cite misleading figures when discussing the trolley’s funding.
Some people, like Ms. Leone, argue that because the trolley’s operating budget is funded by an increase to the hotel tax, Alexandria citizens should not be concerned about this particular appropriation. Not only is the logic of this argument dubious, but it fails to take into account the fact that the city manager has proposed increasing the city’s commercial real estate tax this year to fund, in part, trolley-related expenses. Of the money raised from that proposed tax increase $600,000 would go toward the purchase of a trolley car.
In future fiscal years, the budget proposes spending more than $300,000 annually on expanded trolley service. This money is in addition to the $700,000 in operating costs that is taken from the lodging tax. In other words, taxes on businesses would be raised in part to support the trolley. In basic economics, tax increases on businesses are in turn passed on to the consumers.
Make no mistake Alexandria residents will pay for the trolley one way or another.
Also, Ms. Leone says that the trolley has been an “unqualified success” based on ridership numbers. Is that the only appropriate rubric to look at here? What do the business owners on the West end of King Street near the Metro think about the trolley? People used to have to walk by their stores to get to the waterfront; now these individuals get whisked by these stores with no window shopping at all.
It is specious to argue that the trolley promotes tourism simply because a lot of people ride it. Has anyone done a survey of people on the trolley to determine how many are out-of-town tourists versus people riding it for other personal reasons? Of those that are tourists, for what percentage was the trolley determinative in their decision to visit Alexandria? I sincerely doubt that more than a handful of people have ever sat in their home in Washington or Maryland trying to figure out what to do with their day and choose to visit Alexandria over other locations because of its free trolley.
During a time in which the city is extracting painful cuts to public safety and people have lost their jobs or experienced wage stagnation, it is ill-advised to have so visible an image of government waste continually riding up and down the street.
David A. Lord