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?
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
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.
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.
The Antiplanner’s friend, Benita Dodd, reviews the Atlanta streetcar on the second anniversary of its inaugural run. It was supposed to cost $72 million to build. It cost $97 million. It was supposed to cost $1.7 million a year to operate. It actually costs $5.3 million.
It was projected to earn $420,000 a year in fares. During its first year, it earned nothing because it was free. In the second year, the city began charging $1 a ride, and it earned under $200,000. When it was free, it carried 2,600 riders a day. After they began charging, ridership fell to less than 1,500 a day, less than half the projected number.
It normally runs on Saturday nights until 1 am. Last Saturday, “to accommodate large crowds” for New Years Eve, the city stopped running it at 4:30 pm. (Despite the absurdity of the claim that not running the streetcar will accommodate large crowds, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reprinted the city’s press release word for word.) Naturally, after all these great successes, the city wants to build 22 more miles of streetcar lines.
Washington, DC has started a $221,000 advertising campaign to promote the H Street streetcar, which began operation earlier this year. This includes a radio jingle, “Streetcar, streetcar, cruising along/streetcar, streetcar, singing a song.”
The definition of cruising includes, “To travel at a constant speed,” which hardly applies to streetcars. Cruising is also innuendo for “looking for a sexual partner,” but somehow I doubt DC singles will be attracted to someone because they are riding a free (but expensive) 7-mph streetcar.
“The Dallas streetcar project is another great example of how the Recovery Act is creating jobs and providing accessible transportation,” said then-Secretary of Immobility Ray LaHood in 2011 when he funded the project. Now that it’s been open for about a year, how many people are riding it? About 150 to 300 per day.
This is just one in a series of dramatic failures documented by the transit-friendly Streetsblog. After Atlanta began charging fares for its streetcar, ridership fell below 1,000 per day. Salt Lake’s streetcar carries a few more than that, but only about a third of the original projections. Tucson’s is supposed to be more successful, carrying 4,000 per day, but most of them are students who get major discounts.
Meanwhile, the cost of the Cincinnati streetcar has gone up from $102 million to $148 million. It won’t be completed until September, so there’s still time for more cost overruns.
Ridership on Atlanta’s new streetcar is 18 percent below projections–and the projections assumed patrons would be charged a $1 fare, but (as of the date of the ridership numbers) the city was still offering free introductory rides. Meanwhile, operating costs have proven to be a mere 50 percent more than projected.
Washington, DC’s new streetcar hasn’t yet opened for business, but it has already proven to be hot–as in one of the streetcars being tested on H Street caught fire the other day. DC residents aren’t exactly looking forward to the streetcar, which is increasing traffic congestion and slowing bus service in the corridor. This is just one more example, locals note, of “corporate welfare and the edifice complex.”
Just outside of DC, a new report reveals that the Maryland Transit Administration has done a poor job of tracking consultant costs on the proposed Purple and Red lines. This doesn’t bode well for taxpayers if construction ever begins on these two lines, both of which are expected to cost more than $2 billion.
Here’s another article claiming that the fact that cities are foolish enough to accept federal grants to build streetcars proves that “America has a renewed desire for streetcars.” The article then lists eleven streetcar projects–some of them under construction, others still in early planning phases–as evidence.
One of the projects is in Kansas City, where less than a year ago voters rejected a plan to expand the starter-system funded by the feds. Another city was Milwaukee, where voters have repeatedly rejected light rail, commuter trains, and other rail boondoggles. A third city was Cincinnati, where voters elected a mayor who promised to cancel the streetcar–but was unable to override the majority of the city council. Considering opposition to streetcars in Arlington, San Antonio, and other cities, there is hardly a groundswell of support for these obsolete systems.
The pro-streetcar article is on a website called FutureStructure, which is basically a rah-rah site for people interested in profiting off of government infrastructure spending. Many readers no doubt drooled over the 11 streetcar projects in the article whose average cost was $37 million per mile, ranging as high as $79 million in one case. Considering that it costs less than a quarter of that average to build a mile of four-lane urban freeway and that streetcars are slower than buses and have far lower capacities, these are insane amounts to spend–unless of course, you are the one profiting from government contracts.
A couple of the Antiplanner’s faithful allies have presented recent research that is worth noting. First, Alan Pisarski, perhaps the nation’s leading expert on commuting trends, takes a look at highway use and the induced demand myth.
His first conclusion is that the recent halt in the growth of driving is due to the economy. Inflation-adjusted per capita incomes today are still below what they were in 2007, so it is natural to expect that driving would be lower. In 2013, however, auto purchases grew and he anticipates that miles of driving will soon start growing at least in pace with the population.
Second, Pisarski points out that new highways may result in more driving, but this is a positive benefit, not an argument for not building more roads. Highway “expansion improves and expands choice for both previous and new users,” he says. “Wouldn’t it be nice if transportation did not impede people from acting on their economic and social interests?”