San Lorenzo Valley Post
By Jayme Ackemann
A private excursion train operator is hosting a demonstration project for one vision of rail service using a “ZEMU,” or zero-emission multiple unit, that could operate on tracks between Watsonville and Santa Cruz.
The Coast Futura, operated by TIG/m, offered tickets for two weekends in October to show Santa Cruz County residents what an electric streetcar might be able to offer the region as it grapples with a decision about the best use for the tracks.
There’s room for a healthy debate about what transit solutions might benefit all of the various interests trying to resolve traffic congestion and what role the out-of-service corridor might play without leaning on unnecessary fear tactics and obfuscation to make an argument.
Take claims about “dark money” funding the demonstration project. Those claims are among a raft of somewhat incendiary inferences made by Greenway, a mid-county group opposing rail alternatives previously led by 1st District Supervisor Manu Koenig prior to his election.
The money probably isn’t any “darker” than the funding behind Greenway. Coast Futura is merely the name of the demonstration project being operated by a joint coalition that includes TIG/m and Santa Cruz Big Trees Pacific Rail, which owns Roaring Camp Railroads and operates freight service in south county.
The big picture is that Santa Cruz County has a traffic congestion problem that disproportionately impacts residents in the southern part of the county. A rail solution is one possible option that could help to address that congestion but has never been intended as the sole solution – which is another issue that rail opponents ignore when they suggest this project should be abandoned because alone it can’t resolve all of the traffic congestion.
Santa Cruz County Regional Transit Commission studied a host of projects that would address the congestion along this corridor as part of its Transit Corridor Alternatives Analysis Study. While rehabilitating the rail corridor is among solutions that could have a meaningful impact on congestion – a bike-only trail probably doesn’t do anything more to solve that problem than the rail opponents suggest Coast Futura might. So this talking point probably doesn’t bear much fruit.
Greenway goes on to ominously suggest that allowing a for-profit private contractor to operate a county service on county-owned, right-of-way would be somehow inappropriate and Supervisor Koenig shares this concern.
“The coastal corridor is owned by the public. Anyone should be able to bring whatever wheels they want and ride on a trail for free,” Koenig said in an emailed statement. “We should not have to pay for a ride on some mall trolley to experience the beauty of soaring over the Capitola Trestle or Watsonville wetlands.”
In his statement, Koenig also pointed out that contracting for essential county services is different, but I fail to see the distinction between contracting out the county’s fire recovery responsibilities to for-profit operator 4Leaf, Inc. and contracting with a private operator for transit service. That’s also a fairly common operating model in the Bay Area.
Caltrain is a publicly-owned service, using tracks owned by the counties through which it operates, and operated entirely on contract by a for-profit operator – TransitAmerica Services Inc. (TASI), a subsidiary of Herzog. Coincidentally one of the individuals behind TIG/m also formerly advised Herzog, so perhaps they aren’t as inexperienced as Greenway would suggest.
The fact is there are many publicly-owned right-of-ways upon which you cannot walk or ride your bicycle. Highway One south of Santa Cruz is one such example; the Caltrain tracks extending more than 50 miles between San Jose and San Francisco are another.
Traffic congestion and its impacts on the quality of life for those residents routinely delayed by it are social justice issues in that the negative impacts more frequently accrue to lower-income individuals who are forced to rent or purchase housing further away from job centers due to affordability issues but then find themselves losing hours of their lives to congestion.
We need to start talking in a civil way about real solutions. Streetcars and bike trails may not get us there but there are good-faith arguments on both sides to be heard without all of the incendiary or misleading rhetoric.
Read the original article at https://slvpost.com/accusations-abound-as-electric-streetcar-demo-rolls-out/
Press coverage of the Santa Cruz County Friends of the Rail & Trail and the Coast Connect vision.