Keep Portland Weird: No money for parks, but plenty for new streetcars

In the face of budget pressures that could close four popular community centers, this week Portland city council found enough money to approve a $10 million plan to buy two streetcars from a Pennsylvania-based company. The deal provides an option for the city to buy additional vehicles at some point in the future. There’s always plenty of money for streetcars.

Other cities, like Washington, DC, are taking a different approach: They’re considering ditching their failing streetcar fleets. Funny thing about DC … three of the streetcars they’re abandoning are identical to the Portland streetcars made by the now-defunct Oregon boondoggle known as United Streetcar. (Maybe Portland could buy those streetcars for something way less than $10 million …)

But wait, there’s more. Dan Bower, Portland Streetcar Inc.’s executive director said the company is in the preliminary planning stages for a potential 2.4-mile, $80 million extension of its Northwest Portland streetcar toward Montgomery Park. There’s always more money for streetcars.

Recent streetcar ridership numbers are down about 3 percent from the same time last year. But even those numbers should be viewed skeptically, as Portland Streetcar has a history of significantly inflating it’s ridership numbers, as shown in the figure below from an city auditor’s report.

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