Streetcars: Suddenly a (Poorly Performing) Transportation Service
Despite consistently arguing that streetcars are economic development—not transportation—projects, transit advocates have recently claimed the Kansas City streetcar “really is a transportation project.” But strictly in terms of transportation, how has it performed?
Not as triumphantly as its advocates might hope (or try to suggest).
On an average day in 2015, over 41,000 trips were taken on KCATA’s system. Since its opening in May, the Kansas City streetcar has had an average daily ridership of 6,365, or 15% of total transit ridership. That’s a significant number of boardings, but still substantially lower than a busy bus route (the #70-Grand in St. Louis has over 9,000 boardings a day) and many times more expensive.
Buses outperform the streetcar in others ways, too. First, the streetcar is primarily moving passengers who are already near their destination downtown; it isn’t usually getting people from home to work, etc., like buses currently do. More importantly, the streetcar route has been served by MAX bus-rapid-transit service and local bus service for years. And the streetcar travels in traffic, at the same speed as buses. From a transportation perspective, the streetcar is redundant and unnecessary.
“But streetcars have a greater capacity than buses!” rail advocates reply. Streetcar vehicles can purportedly hold up to 150 passengers; however, articulated buses, with over 50 seats and standing room, can accommodate 75 passengers. The City could simply run two buses for each streetcar to match capacity and enjoy significant cost savings (an articulated bus costs 18% of what Kansas City paid for each streetcar vehicle).
In essence, the streetcar offers a more expensive way to move people along a short, 2.2-mile route that Kansas City’s bus system already serves. Is this really the best use of taxpayer money?