Speaking from his seat on a Metro Transit bus, Minneapolis mayoral candidate Cam Winton rejected the proposal for a new streetcar system on Nicollet Avenue during a mobile press conference Thursday.
Instead of streetcars, Winton proposes enhancing the existent Metro Transit bus system. His plan would introduce larger, more efficient “enhanced buses” and new network of bus stations.
“The city needs to evaluate options,” Winton said. “To build a streetcar line at this time would be an epic mistake. Streetcars look neat, but our city has to make choices about what we are going to buy.”
Winton, who is running as an Independent, has built his campaign on prioritizing the city’s basic needs over what he described as “bells and whistles” expenditures. The construction of a multimillion-dollar streetcar system contradicts his political principles.
The proposed streetcar line would, in part, run along downtown Nicollet Avenue, directly over the bus route in use by Winton for the press conference.
“My point is to demonstrate that we already have a rubber-wheel trolley; aka a bus,” he said.
The enhanced bus service Winton supports would allow passengers to pay fares before boarding the bus, like with a light-rail or subway system. Doors on both sides of the bus would also make for faster boarding. The buses would feature fewer stops and more frequent service.
“The goal of enhanced bus service is to make it more convenient to get on and off the bus, and thereby make it faster to get where you want to go,” he said.
Winton acknowledged that enhanced buses cannot fully compete with what he called the “magic” of a streetcar system, but the service is a luxurious alternative to typical Metro Transit bus lines. The service stations will generally include better amenities. The proposed heated bus stops are expected to be a selling point for many passengers.
“Because this is Minneapolis, it’s pretty cold a good chunk of the year,” he said.
According to Winton’s analysis of city data, installation of a streetcar system would post an average capital cost of $40 million per mile. This is compared to the average $5 million per-mile cost of enhanced bus service.
The money saved from aborting the streetcar project could instead fund Winton’s “basics,” like additional police officers and road resurfacing.
Winton expected the enhanced bus service could serve as a practical middle ground between the proposed streetcar and current Metro Transit system.
“Enhanced busses are the only way to meet transit needs in a responsible way,” he said. “Minneapolis does not need a streetcar.”