Trolley Follies

The Antiplanner’s recent review of a proposed streetcar in Fort Lauderdale compared data for a dozen streetcar lines operating in 2015. Left out were streetcars in Cincinnati and Kansas City, which began operating during 2016. Now the early results for those two lines are in, and–not surprisingly–they aren’t good.

When it was planned, the Cincinnati streetcar was projected to carry 4,600 riders per weekday (see p. 16). By the time construction began, officials reduced this to 3,200 trips per weekday, and by the time it opened they dropped it further to 2,600. Actual ridership in May, its ninth month of operation, was just 1,713 trips per day. Since the city was counting on fares to help pay for operations, the streetcar is expected to have a $474,530 deficit this year and will need even more money from the city next year.

The Kansas City streetcar, meanwhile, was projected to carry nearly 3,200 weekday riders at fares of $1.50 a ride. So the city was elated when ridership in the first couple of months was more than 6,000 trips per weekday. What they didn’t mention was that the rides were free, not $1.50. Judging by Atlanta’s experience, raising the fares to $1 would reduce ridership by 58 percent; raising them to $1.50 would reduce it even more.

But Kansas City doesn’t have to raise fares to see ridership drop. As of May, average weekday ridership in 2017 was just 5,278 trips. Fares are still zero.

At least five cities in addition to Fort Lauderdale are hoping to get federal funds to build more new streetcar lines, including Los Angeles, Sacramento, Santa Ana, Seattle, and Tempe. Taxpayers in those cities better hope that Trump’s plan to end federal funding for what are obviously local projects wins out.


2 thoughts on “Trolley Follies

  1. Frank

    Yes, but the Paris of the Plains *needs* a streetcar for bragging rights and promo photos. Never mind that most people do not work anywhere near the streetcar. Never mind that KC has the least congestion of any major North American city and one of the best freeway systems in the country. Never mind that KC density is ridiculously low. KC needed a shiny toy to go along with it’s new shiny baseball trophy!

  2. TCS

    In Dallas, one used to be able to board a free circulator bus (the DLink) in uptown, ride through the downtown business district, cross the Trinity River and continue on a circulator route in Oak Cliff all on the same bus. Now, with the new streetcar, one boards the DLink in uptown and journeys through downtown, where one transfers to the streetcar to cross the river. Once south of the river the rider transfers to a different bus that circulates in Oak Cliff.

    I gotta say, though, the streetcar does look mighty spiffy in the Chamber of Commerce brochure.

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