TKC EXCLUSIVE AND BREAKING NEWS!!!! TKC QUESTIONS THE CREATORS OF THE KANSAS CITY STRIP!!!
Pictured above from left to right, Kansas City Transportation Group CEO Bill George, Westport Mogul Bill Nigro and KCTG Regional Vice President Terry O'Toole.
A couple of weeks ago I took two meetings with the two Bills behind The Kansas City Strip.
Longtime readers of TKC will remember that we've been hating on the local weekend trolley system that garnered a $200K INTEREST FREE LOAN from City Hall since the thing started a couple of years ago.
Don't get it twisted, this isn't a promo piece and I haven't changed my mind.
However . . . I don't ever turn down the opportunity to learn something new and talking to the 'Two Bills' offered an EXCLUSIVE opportunity to discuss this local transportation system. These interviews are even more important now that Kansas City is looking to mimic this trolley system at the cost of more than $100 million for a downtown streetcar/toy train.
To wit . . .
CHECK OUT THE TOP 5 TKC QUESTIONS FOR THE CREATORS OF THE KANSAS CITY STRIP!!!
TKC: Why am I always seeing the trolleys empty whenever I venture outside my (mom's) basement on a weekend night?
Bill Nigro takes this question seriously and admits that Friday nights for the KC Strip haven't lived up to expectations. Still, he offers a simple explanation.
"Tony, you're not seeing anybody in the trolleys because they're inside the entertainment venues on our route."
It's a good point but I don't completely buy it.
Bill Nigro continues: "Ask the proprietors at any one of our stops and they'll have to admit that we bring in at least 50 people on a Saturday night. That's business they wouldn't have had without the service we provide."
This leads us to my next question that's really more of a stab at Groupon and other trendy Internet giveaways that are sinking local biz . . .
TKC: Why the constant discounting? If the trolley is so great, why give it away?
Bill George speaks to this point and also addresses problems with Friday night traffic on the trolley, "We didn't know what to expect when we were first developing the estimates. Nothing like this had ever been attempted in Kansas City."
Bill George continues: "What we've learned is that Kansas City residents are more apt to go out on Saturday night and Friday nights have seen cutbacks that are most likely related to the economy."
On this point, I sort of agree . . . The economy is the certainly a major factor in the lameness of local nightlife. I don't think that's ever going to change but the 'Two Bills' are much more optimistic.
Bill Nigro CONSTANTLY touts the fact that smart consumers using the trolley would quickly earn back the cost by taking advantage of the restaurant and bar specials.
Personally, I don't like to do math or use coupons when I'm trying to impress chubby, blonde broads in my company. But I digress . . .
TKC: We've heard about problems with the trolleys as far as maintenance . . . What should we know about the condition of the trolleys?
On this topic both Bills admit that maintenance for the fleet of trolleys has been a real issue and accounts for a great deal of financial setbacks for the project.
They both blame it on an old mechanic and claim a new mechanic they just hired has solved the problem. TKC sources have confirm the new mechanic but say that vehicle maintenance is a far more serious matter that might lead to scuttling of the endeavor. Bill George denies this notion and on a tour of the KC Transportation Group Facility I did notice a massive vehicle maintenance facility that seemed well equipped to deal with any breakdown issues.
Bill George reminds us: "The KC Strip comprises only 5 vehicles in our fleet of 555."
Touring the facility that hosts a recent investment of more than 1 million bucks in technology which requires hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of maintenance in a year gave me an appreciation for the scale of the KC Transportation Group.
TKC Aside . . . I was exceptionally impressed with Yellow Cab incorporating the Taxi Magic App in their services. I might even be able to figure out the service whenever my mom decides to put me back on her phone plan.
TKC: Does this thing help Kansas City or is it just a dud using taxpayer cash?
Again, Bill Nigro is vehement defender of the KC Strip and claims that the service has been a boon to biz in Westport and The Plaza. He notes that the project is modeled after The Cancer Crawl and believes that The KC Strip has the same potential for growth.
STILL . . . THERE HASN'T BEEN ANY INDEPENDENT AUDIT OF THE FISCAL IMPACT OR ALLEGED REVENUE INCREASE RELATED TO THE KANSAS CITY STRIP!!!
And this is where the "Two Bills" and I part company . . . So often, Kansas City taxpayer cash is given away on nothing more than political connections, power point presentations and a smile. This is a BIG part of why the City Hall budget is so bloated AND our infrastructure needs are always last on the list of things for local politicos to do.
And this leads us to our last question for right now . . .
TKC: Why was there a need to borrow $200k in an INTEREST FREE loan from City Hall?
Bill George first addresses the loan that TKC has been harping on for two years.
"Of course the city will get all of the $200k back, over the years we've developed a great working relationship with the City of Kansas City, Missouri and we wouldn't risk that on this project or anything else."
More to the point . . .
Bill George contends: "At the end of the day, we're only debating over the interest that KCMO might have earned from the loan they provided The KC Strip. Unequivocally, I'll say that's best money Kansas City has ever spent in order to encourage tourism and small business."
Maybe . . . I guess $200k wouldn't fix a lot of sewer problems anyhoo.
As for the partnership with the city . . . A rather entertaining explanation I took to heart contends that the loan fostered a relationship wherein The KC Strip could get their calls taken by City Hall insiders in order to provide a better service to consumers.
I won't reveal who gave these following examples but they were the best part of the interview . . .
Cordish didn't want the KC Strip trolleys parking in front of their place . . . Calls to a City Councilman and a few other City Hall insiders changed that policy.
Westport police and security weren't allowing the trolleys inside police crowd control barricades . . . Another call to a City Hall politico eliminated this speed bump.
Like it or not, this how is business works in Kansas City and it's part of the deal our Council folks voted to approve.
At the end of the day the creators of the KC Strip say that their service isn't going anywhere and hope that increased ridership trends continue.
I'm not as enthusiastic about anything related to Kansas City but it was nice to learn a bit more about the system we've been hating on for so long given that The KC Strip is basically a model for the upcoming Downtown Toy Train. In the final analysis, I'm not sure if this town can afford an ambiguous accounting of a return on an investment of more than $100 million but the adventures of The KC Strip offer a real world preview of the challenges faced by any transit system hoping to increase local revenue and tourism.
DEVELOPING . . .