For sale: one used 'people mover' Contrasts: Even as Baltimore studies anoverhead transit line, Tampa is scrapping its.

March 11, 1998

BEFORE MAYOR Kurt L. Schmoke gets too excited about a $200 million "people mover" for the Inner Harbor, he should spend a few cents calling Florida. Tampa Mayor Dick Greco announced last week he is thinking of scrapping his city's 13-year-old elevated people mover, which was built to ferry expected hordes of tourists between downtown and the Harbour Island shopping and restaurant district.

"It really is modern and futuristic-looking, but it basically is not being used," Mr. Greco said of the modest aerial tramway, which in 1996 brought in just $28,000 in revenue but cost $600,000 to operate.

Mr. Schmoke is asking Congress for $1.5 million to study a more grandiose elevated monorail for Baltimore. Starting at Camden Station, it would run at a height of 15 feet along the Inner Harbor to Canton, terminating at Boston and Clinton streets.

About 20 elevated people movers are in operation, most at airports and theme parks. Only a handful function in downtown settings. Whether in Miami, Detroit, Jacksonville, Fla., Morgantown, W.Va. or in the planned community of Las Colinas, Texas, they have had problems. Their riding comfort and safety are hard to beat. But they are expensive to build, costly to operate and they usually have not reached their ridership potential.

Baltimore's interest in an Inner Harbor people mover resurfaced after the mayor decided taxpayers should help build a $134 million Inner Harbor East Wyndham hotel. Although touted as a tourism generator, the 750-room skyscraper would be nearly a mile from the Convention Center. The notion of extending the line to Canton, a waterfront residential area undergoing gentrification, came as an afterthought.

As development accelerates east of the Inner Harbor, imaginative solutions will be needed to ease congestion of the Pratt and Lombard street bottlenecks. But is a costly people mover the answer? We seriously doubt it. Tampa's experience shows that people will not necessarily come even if you build an aerial tramway.

Pub Date: 3/11/98

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