While many U.S. cities had streetcars operating in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the majority of American cities dismantled their lines in the middle 20th century, making way for the up-and-coming automobile. Yet trams have many inherent benefits, and in fact have remained popular in many European cities. Unlike subways or light rail systems, streetcars operate on tracks that are flush with the road, creating a system that is much more integrated into the community and give riders direct views of storefronts and the surrounding neighborhood. Streetcars have additional advantages over busses in that they can be boarded from both sides, and in some cities have the right of way over normal car and bus traffic.
Having grown up in a Philadelphia suburb still serviced by a trolley system (surprisingly, Philadelphia’s SEPTA continues to operate several trolleys that extend out into the suburbs--much less glamorous than the more famous trams in New Orleans or cable cars in San Francisco), I look forward to seeing more cities utilize streetcar and light rail public transportation systems. Static public transportation systems provide much more incentive for investment in the neighborhoods that are serviced by them, a tactic that Seattle (with the support of Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen) employed when creating the South Lake Union Streetcar line (formerly officially named the South Lake Union Trolley; an unfortunate acronym led to the name change), to bolster interest in an area that up until recently had been predominantly home to industrial warehouses.
As major cities look to build new streetcar systems and extend additional lines, investors should be aware of the potential opportunities these new public transportation lines could bring.