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The end of the summer is a good time to take stock — and since the summertime hordes of tourists will be thinning, it’s a great time to consider our borough’s effort to attract visitors and keep them here long enough to spend their money.

Two just-issued reports show that Brooklyn’s leaders need to do a lot more.

One study, put out by the Center for an Urban Future and called, appropriately enough, “A Bumpy Ride,” focuses on a free, trolley-styled bus that takes visitors around Prospect Park and nearby cultural attractions — the so-called “Heart of Brooklyn” institutions.

Designed as a way of attracting tourists, the seven-year-old bus “hasn’t yet had a meaningful impact on attendance at participating cultural venues.” In fact, the report pointed out, “awareness of [the trolley] actually decreased in recent years,” even as Brooklyn has “taken major steps to raise its profile as a tourist destination.”

Instead, the bulk of the minuscule ridership lives in the neighborhoods the trolley serves — people who use it for a free ride. It is estimated that only seven percent of the riders are from outside New York.

“It’s clear that the trolley isn’t working in its current incarnation,” the report concludes.

Nonetheless, Borough President Markowitz has put up nearly a half-million dollars of your money to buy a new faux trolley. The report points out — and we agree — that Markowitz will be throwing away money unless there is better marketing and a more frequent trolley schedule, two things that will cost even more money.

It’s time to cut Brooklyn’s losses. A fake trolley is not a tourist attraction and never will be (although a real trolley, along a more heavily trafficked Downtown Brooklyn route, certainly would be).

A second report — this one put out by the cruise industry — also showed what can happen when politicians spend taxpayer money without proper consideration of whether the cost represents a good investment. Although the report gushes about the $35-billion contribution that cruise lines make to the U.S. economy, the fine print reveals that local communities don’t benefit from the arrival of cruise ships, even when the ships berth in the neighborhood.

Red Hook residents know that story all too well. The city built a $56-million passenger ship terminal and promised hundreds of jobs and millions into the local economy. Only 14 full-time positions materialized and cruise-related contributions to the New York economy actually dropped, despite far more embarkations and arrivals at local piers.

Of course, when critics — including this newspaper — pointed out that the city’s promises were based on faulty, overly optimistic projections, or asked reasonable questions about the city’s true motives for trying to evict a longstanding cargo port in favor of a maritime-themed tourist “attraction,” they were dismissed as impediments to progress.

But as both reports show, progress in the tourist industry does not always mean throwing good money after bad.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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