If funding falls into place, the city plans to purchase the Siemens S70 vehicle. The model, one of which you can see to the right, offers room for more than 195 passengers, interior bike racks and wheelchair spaces. Sixty passengers would have seating options. The model is currently used by at least six other American cities' streetcar systems.
The Atlanta City Council on Monday OK'ed a complex proposal by Mayor Kasim Reed's office to purchase the streetcar vehicles — at a cost of more than $9 million — that involves tapping a rental-car tax fund. Deputy Chief Operating Officer Duriya Farooqui told members of Council's Finance and Executive Committee last week that such a move would have no impact on the city's general fund. (For more details on the streetcar proposal — and some photos of what the vehicles might look like — download this PDF.)
Typically the fund has been used to finance public improvements around Philips Arena. But the law also permits the city to use the fund to help pay capital costs for convention, trade, sports, recreational and public safety facilities, among other uses. Several years ago the Atlanta Development Authority issued bonds from the fund to help build permanent supportive housing for the homeless. The mayor's office thinks its streetcar upgrade is an appropriate use.
So why fork over more cash to purchase shiny new vehicles rather than used, refurbished cars as the city had originally proposed?
For the last two months, Farooqui said, the city's been working with Atlanta Beltline officials to determine how the downtown streetcar and 22-mile loop could connect. These new vehicles could operate on both tracks, and in the process, help create a seamless, more robust transit system. (That possible connection was able to convince Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean, who last year voted against the streetcar project, to support the proposal.)
The preferred newer vehicle also features low-floor doors that would be level with the curb, allowing greater access to senior citizens and the handicapped. An older model would require building ramps as long as 45 feet — something Farooqui said might harm economic development along the streetcar route. She also said older vehicles would need to be replaced in 10 years, while newer models offer a 30-year lifespan. The upfront cost would save approximately $5 million in the long run.
The decision to fork over more public dollars didn't come without questions from some councilmembers.
Councilwoman Felicia Moore, one of the city's most vocal financial watchdogs, noted during last week's committee meeting that the city's contribution to the project was increasing. Her colleague Alex Wan echoed Moore's concerns about the total cost.
"First it was $10 million," Wan said. "Then it was $16 million, now we're talking about #25 million the city’s putting in."
Wan, who ultimately voted on Monday to OK the measure because of the streetcar's potential link to the Beltline, said that although he wants to support the streetcar project, he wondered why the rental car tax fund couldn't be used to help boost tourism or pay for other city projects around Philips Arena that are currently draining the general fund.
Councilman C.T. Martin said the project was a "glittering, shiny trophy" the federal government imposed on the city. He — along with Councilwomen Felicia Moore and Natalyn Archibong — were the lone "no" votes against the proposal.
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