City expects to sell trolley line in March


The city and Yellow Transportation are putting the final touches on an agreement that would allow Baltimore to sell the Baltimore Trolley Works next month. The city has spent millions of dollars subsidizing the quasi-public line since 1985 and appears close to getting out of the trolley business, a city official said yesterday.

"If you consider [the] fact that it costs the city somewhere between half a million and three-quarters of a million annually to operate the system, we just don't have the money," said Ella Pierce, a spokeswoman for the city Finance Department. "We're pretty close [to completing a deal] at the moment, but you're never sure that a situation like this is going to be completed until the papers are signed."

The "trolley" cars -- actually buses designed to look like turn-of-the-century trolleys -- which were conceived as a promotional tool to draw attention to downtown Baltimore, carry advertising placards on their sides. However, advertising revenues have never offset the cost of operating the trolley line. The motorized vehicles trundle passengers through the Inner Harbor, Little Italy and Charles Street areas for 25 cents a ride.

Yellow Transportation President Mark L. Joseph said he thinks the trolley line can be turned into a profitable enterprise and that he is "cautiously optimistic" his company will be able to acquire it within a few weeks.

Mr. Joseph hinted that if the deal goes through, 25-cent fares will become a thing of the past.

He said the trolley system would no longer receive city subsidies if his company bought it and that Yellow Transportation would have to look at alternative methods of raising revenues. That might include a fare increase, redefining the trolley line's route system or developing marketing ties with the Mass Transit Administration, Mr. Joseph said.

Yellow Transportation is the parent company of several businesses that have a total of more than 450 taxis, limousines and buses.

City Transportation Commissioner Herman Williams said Baltimore Trolley Works has about 60 employees, including four city workers. The non-city employees have received layoff notices in light of the trolley line's apparent upcoming change of management, Mr. Williams said.

The city placed the trolley line on the selling block in July, and Yellow Transportation joined four out-of-state bidders. Ms. Pierce and Mr. Joseph said the purchase price of the 13 cars is less than $1 million.

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