Trolley supporters to take petitions before council | AspenTimes.com

Trolley supporters to take petitions before council

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Trolley car enthusiasts are collecting signatures from voters interested enough in Aspen’s six historic cars to vote on whether to keep them for an “in-town shuttle.”

At a public meeting tonight, the Aspen Street Railway Co. will present their signed petitions for an August vote to the City Council. At a Friday rally at the post office, the group estimated they had collected anywhere between 500 and 600 signatures.

Trolley proponents argue the trolleys would add a little more charm to Aspen’s image and may draw in more tourism. But one city councilman says it’s not the trolleys that are unattractive prospects, its the money needed to create a trolley line.

The six trolleys were purchased by a group of Aspenites and imported from Lisbon, Portugal, in 1978, at a price of about $14,000 each. Each trolley dates back to about 1925.

Although the cars were a gift to the city in the 1980s, opposition from the start meant the trolleys have never functioned in town. Currently five remain under tarps at Cozy Point Ranch, and one is stored at the town dump.

The group of trolley supporters missed a recent deadline to collect signatures for a special election early this summer. But they hope to influence the City Council with enough community interest to spur an August vote, ideally to coincide with a scheduled primary election. One proponent said approximately 14 out of 15 people who passed by her card table at the post office were in favor of a late-summer vote to determine the future of the trolleys.

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“This is a watershed issue, and it needs to be voted on,” said 35-year Aspen resident Camilla Sparlin. “The winter economy is declining, and we need to have a new thing in Aspen that is unique and makes us stand apart.”

Sparlin said trolley enthusiasts must buy time by forming a community think-tank on how to use the cars rather than give them away. A number of cities including Detroit and San Antonio have expressed interest in the trolley cars.

The petition being signed reads, “[Should Aspen] retain ownership of six historic trolleys for future use as an in-town shuttle” under the knowledge that “such a shuttle system would not require an overhead wire.”

But Councilman Tom McCabe said trolley enthusiasts have oversimplified the issue, failing to provide voters with information on the cost of building a trolley infrastructure in town.

“There is so little information about the cost of this,” McCabe told Jon Busch and Sparlin while the two collected signatures. “Was the concept of rail appealing? Yes. But when we told people what they’d have to pay for it, they told us to go away.”

Busch, part of the original group that bought the cars, said in 1990 dollars, the trolley project would cost about $3 million, and today that price may be inflated up between $5 million and $6 million. Busch supports the idea of corporate sponsorship, rather than taxpayers, funding the project.

He also said that with a vote from the community, “no would mean no,” and he’d give up the fight to save the trolleys if the community chooses to do so.

A couple of petition signers at the post office said the issue should at least be on a ballot soon before the historic cars are given away.

“I think we should have the opportunity to vote on this,” said Vitashka Kirshen, an Aspen resident. “It would be ridiculous if they would totally ignore people who want to vote on this. I’m absolutely in favor of the trolleys. They’re a treasure, and why would we allow someone else to come in and take these treasures away?”

Jim Brasile, who lives at Centennial, said he likes the bus system, but adds that a trolley system couldn’t hurt.

“Our town is not auto-friendly. If you live out of town, once you get here it’s tough to get around,” he said. “I’m not totally sold that people will ride a trolley either, but I hope they do.”

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