Monday, October 8, 2018

Streetcars and Ridership: Expect a Decline After the Thrill is Gone



Streetcars and Ridership
Expect a Decline After the Thrill is Gone
by Raymundo Eli Rojas

This is Part 2 in a series on streetcars. To read Part I, click HERE


We can predict that when the streetcar finally opens to rider, people will flock to ride them. 


The City of El Paso and the El Paso Times (well add Secret and her crew) will market this as a success; they will say, “Look how good we did!”


Then, ridership will decline.


Just last year, several articles were published regarding the under performance of streetcars.


Laura Bliss says in her article “Enough With the  Street Cars Already,” that in Detroit, ridership initially peaked when the new streetcars came out, but “A few weeks after the city of Detroit began charging riders a few bucks per ride on its brand-new downtown streetcar, ridership dropped 40 percent, according to the Detroit Free Press. Sadly, few observers were surprised.” (1).

Forty percent decline! 



Bliss states, “The streetcar, dubbed the QLine, is carrying 3,000 riders per day, short of the projected 5,000 to 8,000 per day required to break even.”  (2).


In looking at Atlanta, Georgia, Bliss said after the city “…saw a 60 percent drop in ridership after its 1.3-mile line, which opened in 2014, started asking for $1 per go.” (3).


The outlook in other cities is not good.   

According to Bliss:

Since it opened in September 2016, Cincinnati’s Bell Connector line has seen about two-thirds of the daily ridership consultants predicted.  Salt Lake City’s Sugar House line has fared even worse, with just about one-third of the passengers originally projected.  Even Seattle, for all of its other transit successes, is seeing about the same sorry share of original predictions.

(4).


According to the Cincinnati Inquirer, as of January 2018, ridership for their streetcar is half of what it was in 2017.  (5).


There are exceptions.  

These are Kansas City and Portland.  Regarding streetcars, Portland has long been used as a model for other cities.  “Overall,” says Bliss, “as critics have often pointed out, the record is pretty poor when these projects are judged as transit.  Which might be the wrong frame.  Actual transit riders aren’t well served by them, but developers and downtown business boosters tend to be pleased.” (6).


Therefore, Bliss states that if we look at streetcars as “transit,” the predictions for success are bleak.


  1.    1. Bliss, Laura,” “Enough with the streetcars already,” CityLab, September 29, 2017. Access, May 6, 2018:
    2.      Id.
    3.      Id.
    4.      Id.
    5.      Brazeal, Casey. “The Cincinnati Streetcar is Failing,” Planetizen, March 11, 2018. Access, May 6, 2018.
    6.      Bliss, Laura.