Two of the most well known new streetcar lines that opened in 2016 were the lines in Kansas City and Cincinnati. Lets look at both of these lines in companion and what they can tell us about the American streetcar.
The Kansas City Streetcar (KC Streetcar) has been the biggest streetcar success of 2016. Its free 2 mile line runs through the downtown then it encircles a residential area. As of last count, 1,690,873 rides had been taken on the KC Streetcar averaging about 6,000 per day. The city government has been very supportive of this line since before it started service and they are already planning a 3 mile extension to the UMKC campus. They hope to open the extension by 2021 and citizens hope for more lines after that. Kansas City, like many other cities, is dreaming of a large streetcar network that will provide much of the city with high quality transit and not just the downtown. The most common criticism of the line is that most riders ride it for pleasure and not to and from work but doesn’t that beg the question, isn’t transit about getting anywhere at any time?
Cincinnati is a different story. Although transit critics were expecting the DC Streetcar to be 2016’s streetcar flop, it ended up being Cincinnati. Like KC, the Cincinnati streetcar (named the Cincinnati Bell Connector) connects the downtown business district to a close-by residential area. The difference comes in the attitudes of city leaders. The city shuts down the streetcar during major events, they charge a $1 fare, and the mayor refuses to pursue federal grants for it’s extension to the University Of Cincinnati. All of this has led to only 410,000 rides since September. That is not horrible, but not great. The extension would undeniably help the streetcar in every respect and streetcar advocates in Cincinnati continue to fight for it but it won’t be coming soon.
Some of the major takeaways from both cities are city governments must support their streetcar systems in any way they can and cities have to remember that initial short streetcar lines can and must be extended for it to be succeed. Get people excited with the starter lines then plan for big systems!