Editorial: Can’t we ride it out?

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tough times call for hard decisions, but it would be a shame if Salisbury’s weekend trolley service goes off track because of the souring economy.
If it were just a matter of shuttling people around downtown and other nearby venues of interest, then this decision would be pretty cut and dried. The Rowan Tourism Development Authority could probably come closer to breaking even by operating a couple of minivans to introduce visitors and others to the historic landmarks and quaint shops of Salisbury and nearby environs. But minivans don’t enhance historic ambience ó or hold much marketing potential. The trolley service doesn’t exist simply to get people from point A to point B. It’s a rolling symbol of the small-town charm that Salisbury emphasizes in its downtown development, its historic districts and its marketing campaigns. In addition to giving patrons a leisurely and enjoyable ride, the trolley is a smile-inducing public-relations vehicle that adds a picturesque element to downtown promotions, as well as regional and statewide advertising.
Tourism officials have indicated they don’t like the idea of cutting the trolley service and have raised this possibility reluctantly. Declining tourism dollars, especially a drop in the hotel occupancy tax, make it increasingly difficult to continue subsidizing the public trolley service, which was never conceived as a money-making proposition and came under the Tourism Development Authority’s umbrella because Downtown Salisbury Inc. could no longer shoulder the operating costs on its own. The current shortfall isn’t insurmountable ó roughly $1,700 (out of about $5,000 in proposed Tourism Authority budget cuts) to keep the regular service operating until the end of this fiscal year. Surely tourism officials, downtown business interests and local governments can pool their resources to bridge this gap, buy some time and devise another operating plan that offers better longterm viability.
Some generous supporters like the Robertson Foundation, F&M Bank and the Salisbury-Rowan Merchants Association (now the Rowan Business Alliance) saw value in the trolley service and helped get it rolling initially. Over the years, the trolleys have become a colorful part of the cityscape, offering leisurely sightseeing and a whimsical link to bygone days. It would be a real loss to hit the end of the line now.