Written by Editor at Large
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.
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.
Visit Seacoast Trolley web site