Cincinnati’s streetcar turned one year old on Saturday, and the birthday had officials measuring its successes, and asking tough questions about its (slow and often traffic-clogged) route forward.
The streetcar has had what WCPO calls “growing pains.” A mere three months after the line began running, the South Ohio Regional Transit Authority issued a letter telling its operator, Transdev, to fix recurring problems or face being fired for breach of contract. The city of Cincinnati also announced damages against the cars’ manufacturer in December, stating that certain pieces of equipment didn’t work in the cold. And ridership numbers have been lower than expected.
Other woes, according to WCPO, include malfunctioning ticket machines, late arrival times and a slow winter that “caused many to question whether or not people [were] actually using the $150 million investment.”
Still, the line has posted some wins. Fare revenue for the first year exceeded initial expectations of $300,000, according to WCPO, yielding nearly $440,000. And the streetcar isn’t just meant for transportation, as Josh Cohen laid out for Next City when the line launched.
As is often the case with streetcars, Cincinnati’s explicit goal for the Bell Connector is economic development. The city has lost about 200,000 residents since the early 1950s, and officials are betting $148 million that the streetcar will help bring some back.
“There are transportation benefits, safety benefits, environmental benefits, but really it’s about economic development along the route,” John Schneider, a former real estate developer and longtime streetcar advocate, told Cohen at the time.
Some see that bid beginning to pay off. In January, Downtown Cincinnati’s director of marketing, Tricia Suit, told REJ Blog that new shops and restaurants were flocking to the “now-prime real estate along the streetcar’s line.”
However, some uncertainty about its long-term operation lingers. City Council has approved the streetcar’s second-year operations budget, and a local foundation has given it $37 million to maintain operations over the next 10 years. But the line’s construction relied on state and federal grants that can’t be counted on for operations, so more questions will likely need to be asked, depending on the line’s performance in its second year.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.