Tag Archives: streetcars

Cancel the Seattle Streetcar

It’s at least 80 percent over budget, as it was supposed to cost $110 million and is now expected to cost more than $200 million. Ridership is well short of expectations. And projections of operating costs are far greater than the original claims. So Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan has halted construction on an expansion of the city’s streetcar lines.

This is certainly a brave step considering the enormous pressures to distribute tax dollars to worthy potential campaign donors. Plus streetcar advocates warn that halting and then restarting construction could add even more millions to the cost.

But those things shouldn’t matter. “The City of Seattle has a critical obligation to spend taxpayer dollars wisely and an equal obligation to transparency,” says Mayor Durkan. And at this point, the wisest thing to do would be to cancel the streetcar completely. Continue reading

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Seattle Fails the Streetcar Intelligence Test

Streetcars are supposed to be the least-expensive form of rail transit, yet Seattle is spending $177 million building a 1.2-mile streetcar line. At $147.5 million a mile, that’s more expensive than many light-rail lines.

The 1.2-mile City Center Connector will connect the 1.3-mile South Lake Union Trolley and the 2.5-mile First Hill streetcar.

Moreover, the plan of the city (which is building the streetcar) appears to be overly optimistic about both ridership and operating costs. The city already has two streetcar lines, and the new one will connect the two. But since the two existing lines parallel each other, connecting them — creating a U-shaped route — doesn’t necessarily make them a lot more useful to riders. As shown in the map above, the connecting line will give riders more access to downtown, but no one except a few streetcar enthusiasts is going to want to ride from one end of the South Lake Union line to the other end of the First Hill line. Continue reading

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Let’s Start Scrapping Streetcars

Good news: Washington DC is thinking of scrapping its streetcars, which have been in service for just two years and whose ridership is still so poor — about 3,000 weekday riders — that the city is afraid to start charging fares.

Bad news: City officials are only thinking of scrapping the streetcars and not the tracks; instead, they wants to replace the streetcars with brand-new ones because it’s so hard to get spare parts for the ones they have. Each new 30-seat streetcar would cost roughly ten times as much as a 40-seat bus, but cost is no object when you are playing with other people’s money.

The modern streetcar craze, which was only partly fueled by federal funding (Portland, Tacoma, and Washington purchased their first streetcars without federal support), provides a lesson for the writers of Trump’s infrastructure plan. They hope that giving local, not federal, politicians the authority of where to spend money would result in better decisions. In fact, local politicians are just as willing to waste money on gleaming new urban monuments as federal ones. Continue reading

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Dublin Learns the Joys of Streetcars

It cost $433 million for 3.66 miles, or $118 million a mile. It’s slower than walking, at least for some trips. It significantly increased street congestion and has had an especially “negative impact on other forms of public transport,” namely buses. What is it? Dublin’s new Cross-City Tram.


Note that the videographer had to speed up some scenes so people wouldn’t lose patience with watching the slow-moving tram.

Instead of being divided into three segments on four wheelsets, like many so-called modern streetcars in the states, the Dublin trams are seven segments on eight wheelsets. That means they can carry 358 people. It also means that, much of the time, they will run even emptier than American streetcars, since it is not easy to reduce the number of segments in a car for low-use periods. Continue reading

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St. Louis Streetcar Broke Before It Begins

St. Louis has spent $51 million building a 2.1-mile streetcar line that may never run because the company hired to operate it is almost out of money. In 2015, St. Louis County gave $3 million to the Loop Trolley Company, which the company used to hire managers, drivers, and other employees to run the trolleys that were supposed to begin operation in spring, 2016.

However, the start of operations has been repeatedly delayed, most recently to mid-winter, 2018. Now the trolley company says it will be out of money before it can start, and it is demanding another $500,000 before a single streetcar turns a wheel in revenue service.

At the other end of the state, the Kansas City streetcar was supposed to have been a great success, carrying an average of 5,843 trips per day, but that’s because it is free. The Loop Trolley Company expects to charge $2 per two-hour period. That’s in the range of the Little Rock streetcar, which carried 153 trips per weekday in 2016, or the Tampa streetcar, which carried 645 trips per weekday. These two lines each cost taxpayers more than a million dollars a year to operate. Continue reading

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The Damage Done by Federal Funding

Despite the fact that the Trump administration has said that will not sign more full-funding grant agreements for streetcar and light-rail projects, and there are no grant agreements for a Ft. Lauderdale streetcar, someone in the Department of Transportation gave Ft. Lauderdale nearly $61 million for the city’s inane streetcar project. When I asked DC transportation experts about it, the only answer I could get is that the department was “forced” to do so.

So now it is absolutely clear that transit capital grants are given out solely for political purposes, not because they make any economic or transportation sense. While the case could be once made that these projects went through some kind of screening process, today (thanks largely to rule changes made during the Obama administration) the only screening is a fill-in-the-blank checklist.

The good news is that Ft. Lauderdale opened the bids for the streetcar construction that was originally projected to cost $142 million, and it now appears the costs will be closer to $270 million. The bad news is that the city will now be desperate not to give up the $61 million from the feds and will find some way to build it anyway. Continue reading

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Detroit Streetcar Ridership Drops 40 Percent

Detroit’s streetcar was carrying about 5,000 trips a day when it was free, but ridership dropped “somewhat” after they began charging $1.50 for a three-hour pass. “We fully expected ridership to dip a little bit” when they began charging, said a spokesman for the group running the streetcar.

As it turns out, “somewhat” and “a little” means 40 percent, as the line has averaged just 3,000 trips a day since they began charging fares. Moreover, they aren’t really enforcing the fares, as they estimate that half the people who do ride aren’t paying, and fare enforcement–which is scheduled to begin soon–is likely to drop ridership that much more.

The streetcar goes down historic Woodward Avenue, which has supposedly seen $7 billion in gentrification since 2013. Naturally, the streetcar people take credit for that even though the streetcar only opened in May, 2017. Can anyone really believe that this redevelopment has nothing to do with the fact that the Detroit Economic Development Corporation has poured tens of millions of dollars of public money and tax-increment financing into the EightMile/Woodward Corridor Improvement Authority and similar projects?

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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. Continue reading

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Bus versus Streetcar

The bus versus streetcar debate became personal in Washington DC when a Megabus rammed a platform for the H Street streetcar. The crash put the streetcar out of service for several hours, and that particular platform for many days.

As if in retaliation, a streetcar rear ended a DC bus, injuring ten transit riders. There were only eight passengers on the bus, so the other two must have been on the streetcar and the Antiplanner wouldn’t be surprised if they were the only passengers on board.

Of course, the entire streetcar system was put out of commission while the messes were cleaned from each of the accidents. If only they had a vehicle that could pass one that was stationary because of an accident or breakdown. Maybe someday someone will invent one.

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Cincinnati Streetcars’ “Catastrophic Failures”

The Cincinnati streetcar–now known as the Cincinnati Bell Connector since Cincinnati Bell paid $3.4 million for naming rights–is barely six months old, and already is having problems. Four streetcars broke down in one day a few months ago.

Now the company that is contracted to operate the streetcar has warned that poor quality control by the railcar maker has resulted in “catastrophic failures” of three different major systems that cause regular breakdowns of the vehicles. Cincinnati Bell is upset enough to demand possibly illegal secret meetings with the city council over the streetcar’s problems.

Cincinnati once counted itself lucky that it didn’t order streetcars from United Streetcar, the short-lived company that made streetcars for Portland and Tucson, many of which suffered severe manufacturing defects. But it turns out the vehicles it ordered from a Spanish company named Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF), which were delivered 15 months late, weren’t much better.

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