EL PASO – A multimedia artist from New York City is on a mission to revive the historic trolley system that once breached the borderline joining Ciudad Juarez to the Sun City.
“I’m a firm believer that we should build trolleys, not walls,” said native El Pasoan Peter Svarzbein. His one-man ad campaign – the El Paso Transnational Trolley Project, – is provoking talk about a future connection between the sister cities.
Public transportation in El Paso and Juarez began with that trolley service in 1881. They were not electric streetcars, but rather horse and mule-drawn trolleys. As time went by, electric streetcars eventually replaced them.
At the time, public transportation was run by three privately owned transit lines – El Paso City Lines, Lower Valley Lines, and Country Club Bus Lines. Electric mass transit lines between El Paso and Juarez continued until 1973 run by a private business, the Border Jumper Trolley. In 1977, the Sun City Area Transit (SCAT) bus system was born, now known as Sun Metro.
“I think that by having more connections we’re better off and it may be hard to cross right now but I do know that a streetcar and a fixed rail mass transit makes sense for a lot of reasons. Not just spiritually and culturally, but from an economic standpoint and an environmental standpoint,” Svarzbein said.
Black and white posters of an old-fashioned trolley driver welcoming people to the idea of trolleys now grace the walls of various downtown buildings such as the former El Paso Saddleblanket Company.
What started as a public and performance art project has become a clear vision of what the trolleys stand for and how they can still have a positive impact on the border.
“From what I’ve seen, El Paso and Juarez are attached. People go back and forth all the time,” said Roberto Santos, an English teacher at El Paso Community College Valle Verde and MC of the recent Rally for Border Unity. “So both sides of this man-made border are actually really related, more related than people realize. That’s what this event was about, bringing a little bit of hope back.”
Part of that hope is trying to make Juarez safe again. The intriguing posters read: “Let Us Take You Home on Either Side of the Border” and “Here to Make The Border Safe Again.” Aware of the escalating violence in Juarez, Svarzbein’s goal as an artist is to prompt the public to imagine a time in the future when they could feel safe again commuting between El Paso and Juarez.
“Growing up so close to the border is something so special and unique. You could really see the culture of El Paso and Juarez mesh together, and this event was about that,” said Christina Pietrowski, junior geological sciences major at UTEP and booking agent. “It’s important for people to cross safely so that people in El Paso can experience what it’s like to be in another country with a lot of history and culture. But it’s really about sharing our cultures and trying to avoid the walls and just having unity with each other.”
For more information and to follow the project’s progress visit www.elpasotransnationaltrolley.tumblr.com.