In May 2021, The Jaxson highlighted five transit projects that were cheaper than the Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s Ultimate Urban Circulator (U2C) program that would replace the JTA Skyway with autonomous vehicles at the cost of $380 to $400 million or $40 million per mile.

El Paso’s streetcar system was one of the highlighted projects. Recently, during the Next City Vanguard Conference, I had the opportunity to tour and ride the El Paso system. Operated by Sun Metro and completed in November 2018 at the cost of $97 million or $20 million per mile, the El Paso system is designed as a 4.8 mile loop connecting Downtown El Paso with El Segundo Barrio, Uptown and the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). Unique among recently completed streetcar systems, the El Paso project utilizes refurbished Presidents’ Conference Committee (PCC) Streetcars from the city’s original streetcar system, which was dismantled in the 1970s, as the rolling stock.

San Jacinto Plaza in Downtown El Paso. Downtown El Paso is served by the new streetcar system.

Although the PCC Streetcars were originally introduced during the 1930s, each car has been refurbished to include modern amenities, such as air conditioning, free Wi-Fi, CCTV cameras, bike racks (3 on each vehicle), ADA accessibility and modern propulsion.

As the future of autonomous vehicles remain in doubt and costs continue to recklessly spiral out of control, the time may come soon when tried and true public transit concepts should seriously be reconsidered in Jacksonville. When that time arrives, projects like El Paso’s heritage streetcar could be worth revisiting.

The SunMetro Streetcar maintenance facility is located adjacent to the Downtown Transfer Center.

The Downtown Transfer Center on South Santa Fe Street.

El Segundo Barrio is a historic neighborhood near the United States/Mexico borderline.

South Kansas Street in El Segundo Barrio. The former Douglas Grammar and High School (left) was the first school for African Americans in El Paso during Segregation.

The streetcar system is a slow moving one, sharing travel lanes with automobiles.