OPINION | No, the Whitehorse trolley is not a waste of taxpayers' money

Whitehorse resident Erik Miller says the trolley shouldn’t need to be self-sufficient, and should be highly subsidized — it's like a charming, interactive visitor guide to the city.

Erik Miller calls the little yellow trolley a 'force multiplier' directing tourists to downtown businesses

The Yukon government announced this spring that it would not keep funding the Whitehorse waterfront trolley. Whitehorse resident Erik Miller says that's a mistake because the trolley is a great way for newcomers to get a tour of the city's downtown. (Elyn Jones/CBC)

I learned an important travel and tourism lifehack during my year abroad in the U.K.: on your first day visiting a new city, always take the double-decker bus tour (try to sit outside on the upper deck, too, even if it's raining).

Sure, you can line up and grab a paper map and pile of brochures at the visitor information center, but that's just never going to be as good as seeing the lay of the land, hearing recommendations and facts from a knowledgeable tour-guide, and making a mental (...or paper) list of all the cultural and historical sites you want to visit throughout the remainder of your sojourn.

Whitehorse doesn't have double-decker bus tours, nor do we really need them. We have something better — many of our best urban attractions are concentrated along our historical waterfront, and visited twice an hour by our quaint, adorable old trolley, with insightful conductors that provide that same invaluable local awareness.

Unfortunately, Premier Sandy Silver's Liberal government believes we can't have nice things, and Ministers Richard Mostyn and Jeanie Dendys have dragged the poor trolley out behind the train barn and killed it. Their stated reason is that the trolley, in Mostyn's words, "will never become self-sufficient," and was "highly subsidized."

The trolley's demise shows the government doesn't grasp how sometimes a loss leader reaps benefits, writes Miller. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

I would argue that it shouldn't need to be self-sufficient, and should be highly subsidized. It's a fallacy to suggest it should ever be otherwise.

Our trolley isn't just an attraction unto itself — it's a force multiplier directing traffic to every other downtown destination.

It's a fun, charming, interactive visitor guide, and it's a happy burst of colour and identity for a downtown which until recently, has been — dare I say it? — a bit drab. Its demise reveals something our government fails to grasp: sometimes a loss leader reaps benefits.

Here's a sample of the great tourist sites that are accessible from the trolley and benefit from it (and full disclosure, I own a business along the line):

  • We begin at Rotary Park, within shouting distance of the S.S. Klondike. It's also a great place for road-trippers to park and explore on foot, or play some Frisbee, let the kids run around the water park and playground, or enjoy some food truck grub. The nearby High Country Inn boasts the sunniest patio in town.
  • Next, we drop by the Legislative Assembly and the visitor's centre (RV parking!)
  • Main Street is next, with its extensive pedestrian shopping, restaurants and nightlife.
  • Then, we cruise right through the train shed (how cool is that?!) and can go visit the newly expanded MacBride Museum.
  • The Strickland Street platform offers two choices for canoe rentals to paddle the Yukon River, and the Woodcutter's Blanket for pints and cocktails.
  • After that is the beautiful Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre and its wonderful exhibits and events, as well as Lumel Studios for a fun and different activity, along with Whitehorse's two newest hotels.
  • Shipyards Park, with its festivals and Fireweed Market comes next.
Shipyards Park — one of the trolley's regular stops. (Paul Tukker/CBC)
  • Waterfront Station will soon host Whitehorse's newest craft brewery, and has the delightful Blackbird Bakery. Icycle Sport and Midnight Sun Coffee are a short stroll away.
  • Finally, Spook Creek Station offers Earl's and its fine riverfront patio, as well as being extremely convenient to Camp Walmart, where, despite the authorities' best efforts, I suspect itinerant RVers will continue to boondock. Yukon Brewing is just a short hike north.

And it's not only visitors who love the train. Ask any parent of young children, and they'll relate stories of their toddlers begging to ride the trolley again. We might not have the White Pass & Yukon Route railway in Whitehorse any longer, but at least we can enjoy the last mile.

Speak not of the millions already invested in it — let's flush away all those sunk costs to save the paltry $107,000 annually (honestly, that's less than one management-level salary in the Yukon government). But what about the required track maintenance, you ask? Peer through the windows of the roundhouse, and you'll see dozens of pallets of railway ties, bought and paid for.

Brand new railway ties — now likely to be sold off — can be seen through the windows at the trolley roundhouse. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

The opposition is gleefully reminding us that we spent $150,000 spraying water in the air; I prefer to point out that the Yukon government is contributing $112 million towards the Yukon Resource Gateway Project to court mining exploration. I argue that we can also afford a thousandth of that sum courting tourists.

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About the Author

Erik Miller is a small-business entrepreneur, frontline health-care worker, and (sometimes) stay-at-home dad. In whatever precious time remains, he enjoys mountain biking, hiking with his family and giant dogs, and apparently, trainspotting on the Whitehorse waterfront.


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