Trolley Follies cont.
For all its happy air of hospitality , the multimillion dollar local tourist trolley business bears a striking resemblance to gang warfare-a constant rumble over permits, stops, and licenses. One trolley operator has been known to photograph competitors whose vehicles are parked illegally, or are violating traffic rules. And yet, while they claim to offer unique routes and separate niches, the operators are essentially the same; the only major dif-ference is the color of the trolleys.
Modeled after San Francisco cable cars, the fake trolley chassis attached to Isuzu truck engines have no historical relevance to Boston. Their arrival has, in fact, been sudden and pronounced. It dates back only to 1982, when Randolph-based Brush Hill Tours began to operate a shuttle service on the Freedom Trail, calling it the Beantown Trolley. Today, the biggest companies collectively account for 75 lum-bering trolleys on the narrow city streets.
Beantown now has 18 trolleys, while OldTown Trolley, whose parent company is based in Key West and also operates the famous Conch Train there and trolley tours in San Diego, Savannah, and Wash-ington, D.C., has 27. After swallowing the Boston Trolley company, Old Town has spun off a division called Minuteman Tours to offer combination rides in Boston and Cambridge on another 16 blue trolleys. The 11 white trolleys of Discover Boston are owned by a former Old Town ticket seller. The newest, City view Trolley, has three "luxury" vehicles out-fitted with TVs. It's owned by another Old Town and Boston Trolley veteran.
The rivalry has gotten even more pronounced with the sudden popularity of the 17 World War II era amphibious vehicles that comprise the Boston Duck Tours fleet, which came out of nowhere to siphon away more than a million tourists in just five years for a spin around the city and a short cruise on the Charles. So many of these tours are operating now that city officials, fearful of the traffic impact, have finally started holding up new licenses.
All the trolleys offer pretty much the same impossible promise: a dozen and a half stops, served every 15 or2O minutes. This in a city where not even the subway stays on schedule~and it's on tracks. Tourists are routinely turned away from trolleys that are full, promised that there's plenty of room in the next one, only to get the same excuse again. "I'm sorry, the next trolley should have some seats," the subsequent driver tells them with a wan smile. "My name is [insert name of another driver]."