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Two Trolleys Tackle Track

Seacoast Trolley
When Tours Collide


Seacoast Trolley suddenly has some stiff competition. The independent history tour bus is now facing off against a narrated tour supported by the city and the chamber. Is that really fair? Have you supported your local trolley lately?

 

 

 

While we applaud the city’s Herculean attempts to keep public transport trolleys running in Portsmouth, their new idea to offer "narrated" trolley tours this summer is heading down a bad bit of track. Citizens should note that we already have Seacoast Trolley, a superb narrated trolley tour for tourists owned and operated by independent businessman Paul Reardon.

Reardon decided seven years ago, long before the city trolley arrived, that Portsmouth needed a high-end history tour. On his own, with no city support, he purchased a brand new trolley, researched local history, and began shuttling visitors. We’ve been on the trip a number of times and it is, by far, the best tour in town – and a bargain at $5. From Market Square the clean quiet trolley goes to the beach at Rye and back via New Castle and Wentworth by the Sea. Passengers may get off and on for a single fee and Reardon, unlike many guides who simply memorize a narrative, really knows local history inside out.

A few years ago the city started a passenger trolley service using federal funds in a legitimate attempt to establish public transportation services here. While some say the system worked, few locals actually used the service. That doesn’t mean we don’t need it – we do. Most tourists, meanwhile, have their own cars. Beach towns with successful tourist trolleys like Ogunquit, York and Hampton simply have more visitors – a lot more.

So with shock and awe we read in the daily paper recently that the Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce, the city and COAST transportation has begun an hourly narrated history tour downtown next week. What about the rest of the story? Isn’t this "collaborative" competing unfairly with an established local company? We think so. Reardon has since scaled back his own hours and says that if the underwritten service cuts into his bottom line, he must consider withdrawing his service.

Seacoast Trolley

We thought chambers were designed to support local businesses, not beat up on them. Reardon has taken the assault with quiet dignity. Despite the one-two punch coming from the nonprofit chamber and the tax-fed city, Reardon says he will "wait and see" if the subsidized trolley program impacts Seacoast Trolley.

Reardon, who is a local and passionate about Portsouth history, says he supports his work giving tours by chartering his trolley privately. That’s where the money really is. But he says he truly loves teaching visitors the fascinating history of his hometown – if he can afford to.

 

"For me to worry about what they’re doing is self defeating," Reardon says. "Am I disappointed? Of course I am."

The city trolley with its new narrators will cost just 50 cents a ride – cutting the cost of Reardon’s tour by 90 percent. Now that has to hurt. A chamber spokesperson told us that the city trolley isn’t really offering historical tours, but more a guided tour of the current buildings and sites. But yes, our source admits, a lot of that info has to do with history.

If the city and chamber succeed in driving this independent business into the ground, what’s next? How about a nonprofit municipal café with 25-cent federally subsidized cappuccino? Or a fifty-cent chamber of commerce hair salon or a one-dollar narrated ferry to the Isles of Shoals?

Instead of thrashing companies that try to eke out a living promoting tourism, the chamber should offer Reardon free membership for his superb service to the community. Then the city should get on board and underwrite a portion of the Seacoast Trolley tour -- rather than run it off the road.

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Thursday, May 25, 2017 
 
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