What are the benefits of the proposed streetcars?

I guess I just don’t get it . . .

How is it that a streetcar system will meaningfully reduce congestion or otherwise facilitate peoples’ movement in and around San Jose? A streetcar with a passenger capacity of (say) 50 cannot be significantly smaller than a bus of the same capacity, can it? If yes, someone needs to explain the secret. How will a streetcar get more people into the same physical space? So the streetcar, of whatever capacity, will necessarily occupy the same space as a bus would, no?

A street car will be physically constrained to a set of tracks in its lane. Other vehicular traffic will certainly use that same lane unless a physical barrier is erected. If there is no such barrier then the streetcar cannot hope to move significantly faster than the surrounding traffic, and it will be more susceptible to delays caused by obstacles in its lane which a bus could hope to maneuver around. If there were such a barrier, then congestion will be made worse due to the fact that other traffic will not be able to use that space which had previously been open to all vehicular traffic. A dedicated lane, unused most of the time, would be denied to other traffic. In effect, the street would become narrower by a lane in each direction.

Now it certainly is true that an electric streetcar will not emit the pollution that a diesel bus does, but so far no one is making an environmental argument in favor of this proposal, and given all the other petroleum-burning vehicles on the streets, one wonders just how much bus pollution might be offset. If exhaust pollution is an issue, buses could be upgraded and enforcement of tailpipe emission limits on all vehicles could be made a higher priority.

While the condition of Costa Rica’s road system is markedly improved over their condition when we retired here in 2005 (and we congratulate the government for that), they remain far from perfect, and certainly the money spent on an illogical streetcar system could better go to repairing more roads and bridges. Or the government might consider devoting these resources to the chronically underfunded Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social which many citizens depend upon for their health care. Too, better funding for the Caja would have an impact nationwide whereas the proposed streetcar system will benefit only a small subset of the residents of San Jose.

David C. Murray
Grecia, Alajuela

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