Marin Trolley

Marin Independent Journal Editorial
Posted:  03/03/2013 05:00:00 AM PST

A propose to use this type of car on the Ross Valley Trolley run from Fairfax to the San Rafael.

FEW WOULD BE SURPRISED if the projected cost for building and running a trolley line from Fairfax to San Rafael turns out to be pretty pricey, probably beyond what any people might say we can afford. But there are those who say we, as a community, cannot afford not to pursue this idea to have a greener mode of local transit.

They are right. The idea deserves a hard look. That's what the Transportation Authority of Marin is going to do. TAM has committed $100,000 to look into the idea, its cost, its ridership and its engineering viability. Anyone who drives on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard during periods of heavy traffic would likely agree that another means for getting across the county is probably a good idea. The road is jammed and there is little room to improve that situation.

Recent proposals to widen Drake have received chilly political receptions. Architect Alan Nichol, former San Anselmo Councilman Peter Breen and Mary O'Mara, executive director of MarinLink, have been pushing the Ross Valley trolley. They say it is a viable idea that deserves to be studied. They have won support from politicians and merchants along the five-mile stretch. The trolley, they say, can be just what's needed to help feed riders to the commuter train being built by the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit. They have a good point. Getting riders to the train or getting to and from the train to jobs remains a challenge for SMART. A trolley, similar to the train that once traveled much of that stretch, could be the answer. It would be a way to get students to White Hill School and home. It would be a way to get workers to jobs in San Rafael.

Proponents don't rule out extending the trolley to San Rafael's Canal area, one of Marin's most public-transit-dependent communities.

Nichol says a trolley system may be the most environmentally sound solution, providing public transit powered by electricity, not gasoline. "The trolley is a real interesting way to get people out of their cars," he said, noting the trolleys could be powered by lithium batteries and fuel cells rather than overhead power lines.

Fairfax and San Anselmo political leaders are so intrigued by the concept they are committing their share of the county's transportation funds to study it. We hope the study covers possible financing options, including a public-private partnership to cover the cost of building and operating the system.

The idea is going nowhere without hard numbers. You've got to start somewhere. Having real numbers on cost, operation, ridership and financing will be important in testing community support for the idea.

We won't be surprised if the sums generated in the study lay out a steep uphill financial challenge. But, at that point, we will have facts and figures to help us decide whether a Ross Valley trolley is a viable, or even realistic, option.