D.C. Streetcar Tops 300,000 Rides

D.C. Streetcar Tops 300,000 Rides

Six months after opening, ridership is exceeding (admittedly low) expectations. 

A D.C. streetcar at the Union Station stop (Photo by Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz)

Six months after Washington, D.C.’s streetcar debuted to criticisms over its speed, price and practicality — as well as excitement that the long-delayed line was finally open — more people are choosing to ride than expected.

Leif Dormsjo, the director of the District DOT, told WAMU that early ridership is exceeding projections for the 2.2-mile line. “So far we’ve been doing quite well,” Dormsjo said. “The running times have improved. I think our customers are pleased with the service. The vehicles are being maintained properly. And we haven’t had any safety incidents.”

Nearly 70,000 passengers rode in June, and average weekday ridership was 2,773, according to DDOT figures. The average interval between streetcars was 14 minutes, one minute better than scheduled. Close to 3,000 passengers road on Saturdays in June. “We initially thought we’d be in the 1,500 range,” Dormsjo told WAMU.

Dormsjo also reports that the average streetcar trip is taking less than 20 minutes, down from 26 minutes during the first days of operation, and that more people are riding in the middle of the day and late afternoons than in the morning rush hour.

They’re still working through a few traffic hang-ups, including delivery trucks and a problem with a traffic signal on westbound trips — streetcars often have to wait through an entire signal at the intersection of H and 3rd Streets before entering traffic. Dormsjo says DDOT is working with signal engineers to improve communications between streetcars and signals.

DDOT will decide later this month if the streetcars will run more frequently and if they’ll add their sixth streetcar (which has been out of service for repairs) to shorten the wait between rides to 12 minutes. They’re also considering Sunday service, motivated by strong ridership on Friday and Saturdays and by the Kansas City streetcar’s success on weekends, and plan to eventually extend the line.

The total cost of the streetcar has risen to $229 million, as of March: $22 million for the six streetcars themselves; $14 million for operating costs from months of test runs and the first six months of passenger service; $152 million for the construction of the route and car barns; and $30 million for project management. Dormsjo said the streetcar will cost the District about $8 million to operate.

Despite the rising costs, DDOT isn’t ready to make a decision on whether or not to charge a fare. They said the streetcar is boosting business and foot traffic along its corridor, and that was the ultimate goal.

Kelsey E. Thomas is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia but forever dreaming of her PNW roots. She writes about urban policy, sustainability and the outdoors (but also about nearly everything else) and helps brands employ strategic storytelling to grow their reputation and reach. She is a former associate editor at Next City.

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Tags: washington dcstreetcars

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