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Transportation Therapy

by Dennis Marsoun

August 3,2004

The continuing debate over transportation in Charlotte is showing no signs of letting up.

Voters approved a plan some seven years ago to authorize a half penny tax to fund the creation and ongoing support of a five-spoke transit system. The plan was bold and ambitious, if somewhat hazy. Would each line be rail or would there be a mixture of rail and dedicated bus-ways?

Many people are pointing to rising costs as a sign of a governmental boondoggle. Some say that no one will ever ride it. Others say we should build more roads. Everyone is looking at it through his or her own particular prism of needs and biases.

Without weighing in on one side or the other, for now, I’m reminded of a coffee shop that opened on North Tryon Street in the Center City about 5 years ago. I stopped there a few times, the coffee was good, some of the food was good, but the coffee shop closed in mid-2003.

The owner, wanting to succeed, clearly had spent a lot on furnishings and equipment. The owner and his staff no doubt worked very hard as well. I am sure something could be said about the effects of 9/11 and the general recession, but closed is still closed.

Two guys who had limited success in trying to open another business in Uptown decided to give this place a go. There had been no new businesses established in the area since the previous coffee shop. The new owners did little to change the décor and they kept much of the same equipment. But they did make some changes.

They decided that breakfast and lunch alone do not a successful business make, and though it was too small for a serious dinner offering, it could offer a witty menu of soup, sandwiches, salad and an assortment of interesting beer, wine and liquor. Then they added entertainment and a hip theme to create an experience and set themselves apart.

What the current owners did that their predecessor didn’t do can be easily summed up: they correctly read the wants of their customers and they delivered a product that satisfied those desires.

So, what does this have to do with transit? Everything!

The vintage Trolley is running, and seemingly running successfully. The limited schedule will be expanded when additional cars arrive in the coming months. The trolley will become a functional line with better hours and frequency. This is a baby step for rail.

Activity will soon start on light rail itself, quickly followed by the commuter rail stopping at a new multimodal station located near Johnson & Wales University. Soon we will have several lines coming into the city and a hubbub of activity and excitement, driven by convenience, at the Uptown end. What we still need is a terminus at the remote ends as well. A stop at Carolina Place Mall would be wonderful!

Just like overpriced martinis, people will pay for transit if it gives them what they want: convenience, camaraderie and a place to go.

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