A blog focusing on politics in Central Illinois.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Trolley Report

After the City Council election I struck up a E-correspondence with new Decatur City Councilman Dan Caulkins. I recently invited him for a return trip back into the blogosphere, and he responded quickly. Below is a short article about the trolley issue which was brought up at the last city council meeting. This is a feature that may or may not turn into a semi-regular feature. So let's hear your input or thoughts on the trolley and other issues you feel are important to Decatur. This can quickly become a two way conduit for ideas. So let's see how it turns out, and we can develop the idea from here.

Decatur Buys A Trolley?

Monday night (5/2) the City Council discussed the idea of purchasing one of the trolleys that are currently in use by the Transit System. Because this was a Study Session ("Possible Acquisition of One Trolley"), no formal vote was taken on a proposal to purchase but it was an opportunity for the members to discuss the issue with staff.

A short review of the details: Originally, this trolley was purchased with $110,000 in grants. For the city to purchase it from the Transit System we would need to spend $71,012 ($55,734 to Feds and $15,278 to IDOT). It will take 4-6 weeks after the resolution is passed to get their approval.

The City staff have negotiated with the Feds to get our $55,734 set aside for any other eligible transit purpose we may have. IDOT can't do that but they have agreed to some sort of deal that will allow us use the Fed money without their participation.

The transit system wants to use the Fed's money for a new wheelchair lift-equipped van. There are two 1993 vans in service now, and the Fed money to replace them has dried up. The estimated cost of a new van is about $50,000. There is some talk of being able to use our $55K to leverage the purchase of 2 new vans, but nothing definite. (That was short by government standards.)

Now, The Opinion: It was clear to me that everyone on the Council is in favor of removing at least 1 trolley from service. My understanding is we can't just give it back (my first choice!) without paying a heavy penalty. Even though there is no line item in this years budget for the $71K purchase of a trolley (or $50K for a new lift van), I think it's a fairly good idea IF we can find a way to recover our costs ($71K) from the use or sale of the trolley. I use the $71K number because that is what we're really spending. Yes, the Transit System is getting a new lift van in the deal but these purchases have been made with grant money, not City GRF dollars.

The second part is just as important to me as the first. I do not want the city to become a Trolley-Taxi service. We have no expertise in this area and we can't afford to start one. I would like to see our staff immediately put together a request for bids to either purchase or lease the trolley for use in Decatur. We can grant a taxi license and parking privileges if need be. I say let some smart business person decide what it's worth to have a trolley for rent in Decatur. If the result is not attractive enough to the Council, we can discuss other options (E-Bay?)

Dan Caulkins