Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn says it simply does not make sense to continue funding the Waterfront Trolley to the tune of $30 for every rider.
“It was highly subsidized,” Mostyn said in a May 1 interview, while also acknowledging “a lot of people really enjoy the trolley”.
In the legislature April 30 questions arose about the territory no longer funding for the trolley that’s been operated by MacBride Museum since 2017.
That was the year the museum absorbed the Miles Canyon Historic Railway Society, taking over their operations of the 1925-era trolley and the Copperbelt Mining Museum.
The territory’s decision not to continue trolley funding — which Mostyn said was made last year and communicated to the museum at that time — means the trolley isn’t likely to run this summer.
The news comes as MacBride Museum faces significant financial struggles in other areas that could result in cutbacks to museum programming, staffing and more. The next meeting of the MacBride board is scheduled for next week.
Mostyn said the trolley will never come close to being self-sufficient as originally planned when the government provided the first cash infusion of nearly $1 million to the railway society in 2000/2001 to get the trolley going.
Over the years, subsequent contribution agreements have seen $1.3 million doled out for operational expenses as well as $2.5 million in capital.
That includes the most recent three-year agreement, which ended March 31 and provided $107,000 in operating expenses annually.
The last capital expense went to track upgrades between Rotary Peace Park and the Roundhouse in the 2017/2018 fiscal years.
The entire trolley route between Spook Creek Station and Rotary Peace Park has needed work with the trolley route limited to between the park and Roundhouse for the last couple of seasons. Significant track upgrades would be needed for the trolley to make its way beyond the Roundhouse to Spook Creek, Mostyn said.
A further $1.1 million in capital expenses has been provided for the trolley’s home at the downtown roundhouse and $3,563 for operations of the building since 2000, the last funding for that coming in 2017/2018 for $35,000.
Last year’s ridership was at about 5,000 with the museum projecting about 8,000 taking a ride this summer.
Records between 2005/2006 and 2016/2017 show ridership levels ranging from a low of 8,175 in 2009/2010 to a high of 11,999 in 2007/2008. It was during those years that the trolley followed the longer route.
Even with an increase in ridership this year, Mostyn said each ride would be subsided by about $30 per ride with passenger rates at $1 per trip except for museum members.
And those rides would again be limited to between the roundhouse and park due to the conditions of the track elsewhere on the route.
Admissions to all of MacBride’s facilities (which include being onboard the trolley) are included in membership rates.
Mostyn said the Liberal government began looking at the trolley operations shortly after taking office in 2016, given the high cost of operations. With the last three-year agreement ending in March, Mostyn said the decision was made to honour the agreement while also letting MacBride know in 2018 funding would end and not be continued after March 31, 2019.
As the territory continues to answer questions about the trolley, there’s also the matter of the museum’s land after members passed a resolution stating it was willing to sell to the government provided the society can continue operating things independently.
The resolution came in light of city property tax bills for 2018 and 2019 totaling $154,000. 2019 taxes aren’t due until July 2, but the 2018 bill puts the museum in arrears with the city. And that means the museum is unlikely to receive the $60,000 in recreation grant funding it applied for.
Mostyn said that the government is aware of the museum’s financial situation and resolution, but it has yet to receive the formal request required.
Only at that point would officials consider it, Mostyn said.
As for the Copperbelt Mining Museum, it will continue to receive territorial funding at least for this year, as it is in the final year in a three-year agreement. The territory provides $50,000 annually for operations and provided more than $42,000 in capital funding last year for a safety enhancement project and work to complete a merger with MacBride’s system.
The Yukon Party jumped on the trolley line this week, with a press release criticizing the government.
The official Opposition said that popular programs have been cut including for first-time home buyers and builders, and there’s a refusal to expand coverage for Yukoners with Type 1 Diabetes and funding frozen to a number of NGOs.
There’s also been spending. Of particular note, the Opposition highlighted the government’s decisions to spend $120,000 “to spray water in the air” in Dawson City to build an ice bridge, $200,000 on another “failed attempt” at an ice bridge and $3 million to create the cannabis corporation among others.
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