11 Things to Know Before You Ride The Hop
How many people will ride it? How is it free? Oh so many questions, all answered here.
Milwaukee’s 2.1-mile-long streetcar system will open to the public beginning Friday, November 2nd at 1 p.m. A ribbon-cutting ceremony at Cathedral Square Park will precede the opening.
The Hop presented by Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, as the system is now officially known, has been debated for years. While you wait in line to board the train, use our guide to brush up on streetcar history and learn how the line could be extended.
1. How many people will ride the system?
The line is likely to be exceptionally busy for the first few weeks, but once things level out, the city projects 1,800 daily rides on the 2.1-mile line.
The number wasn’t pulled from thin air. It’s the result of a model developed using existing bus ridership data, commercial space data, housing and hotel data and indexing to existing streetcar systems. Ridership on the vehicles will be counted by sensors in the doors.
Ridership on similar systems launched since the city produced its estimate provides some amount of guidance on how the Milwaukee system might fare. In Kansas City, the most successful new system, ridership has far exceeded initial projections with 5,806 rides per day on the free system since its 2016 launch. In Cincinnati, where a new mayor was elected and attempted to shut down the system, ridership has lagged estimates and is in decline. The Cincinnati line is averaging just over 2,000 rides per day.
2. Does the streetcar have a schedule?
Not really. The operators are relying on a schedule to operate the system, but no public schedule has been released. Project officials have promised a schedule within two weeks of the line opening, but no firm date has been released.
More important in a world of smartphones and countdown clocks on stations, real-time location data won’t be available until December according to project representatives. The system is intended to deliver vehicle location and estimated arrival time information, but the stations don’t have digital displays to communicate that data with the public. Patrick J. Flaherty, who serves as the city’s owner’s representative on the project, said at a recent meeting that once the data is available app developers would be able to incorporate it into third-party applications. Flaherty also said the city has approached Milwaukee County Transit System about having streetcar location data available in the MCTS app.
3. Will the streetcar ever be extended?
Yes. In fact, the first extension, a line to the lakefront via E. Michigan St. and E. Clybourn St. is scheduled to open in 2020. It was funded in part by a federal grant that the city had to apply for multiple times before winning it. The $128.1 million cost figure for the streetcar includes the lakefront extension.
Extensions beyond the Lakefront Line are more iffy. The council approved an extension up N. Vel R. Philips Ave. to the Fiserv Forum in 2016, but it is contingent on the city receiving a $20 million federal grant. The city has applied and been denied multiple times on a grant for that line, but that doesn’t mean it will never happen. The city could also look to fund short extensions by itself through the use of tax-incremental financing districts. Portland has done this in the past to advance its now significant system. Seattle has also built an extensive system over time.
Should there be a new presidential administration in 2020, it could perhaps redo the scoring metrics for transit grants. Since the funds were first awarded to Milwaukee in 1991, each administration has altered how the Federal Transit Administration awards grants.
4. Can the streetcar run in snow?
Yes. Similar vehicles regularly operate in Detroit, Toronto and Minneapolis.
5. How is the system free to ride?
When you climb aboard The Hop, you’ll notice you don’t have to buy a ticket. Due to a federal grant for startup transit systems and a $10-million, 12-year sponsorship agreement with the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, the system will be free to ride for the first year. And even if you tried to pay, you wouldn’t find anywhere to put your money.
City officials have said they intend to start charging $1 per ride for the system in the future, but the vehicles today don’t have a fare collection system and the city has yet to issue a request for proposals to procure one.
Should they ever do so, it’s likely riders still would rarely have their tickets checked. Numerous rail transit systems rely on a proof-of-payment system where system officials periodically board vehicles to check tickets and issue fines for non-compliance. Proof-of-payment is intended to be more cost effective then paying a conductor to ride the vehicle full time in addition to the operator.
Fares aren’t budgeted to cover more than 20 percent of the system’s approximately $3.5 million annual operating budget. The Milwaukee County Transit System recovered 28 percent of its costs from fares in 2017.
6. Did the city lay off cops to pay for the streetcar?
No. A contentious 2018 budget debate, which resulted in the elimination of positions in the Milwaukee Fire Department and Milwaukee Police Department, had the streetcar once again become a public punching bag. That anger, at least for a few years, was misplaced. Due to a federal grant and the Potawatomi sponsorship, no streetcar operating expenses appear in the 2018 budget. Similarly, no expenses appear in the 2019 budget that Barrett presented to the council in September.
The streetcar plan approved in late 2014 includes the eventual use of the parking fund to help sustain the approximately $3.5 million annual operating cost.
7. How old is the idea for a streetcar?
If you ever find yourself needing evidence things move slowly in Milwaukee, point to this. The federal funds used to build the streetcar were originally allocated to Milwaukee in 1991. The $289 million was originally intended to build a regional transit system with dedicated lanes along Interstate 94. The system would have run through the district of then-state senator Tom Barrett, who had a mustache and no grey hair at the time.
That regional plan was ultimately rejected. A compromise between Mayor John Norquist, Governor Tommy Thompson and County Executive Tom Ament in 1999 sent $149.5 million to road projects, including tearing down the Park East Freeway and $91.5 million for downtown circulator system. The federal government took the remaining $48 million back.
In 2006, the Common Council approved a $300 million guided bus system that would have leveraged the $91.5 million funding. Barrett vetoed the proposal. Barrett and then-County Executive Scott Walker spent years battling over how to use the funds.
Barrett, utilizing his allies in DC, was finally able to end the stalemate in 2009 by getting Senator Herb Kohl and Representative David Obey to split the money between the city and county. Federal legislation allocated $54.9 million to the city for a fixed guideway system (60 percent) and $36.6 million to Milwaukee County for buses (40 percent).
The Common Council approved the streetcar plan in 2011, and again in late 2014. A much, much smaller system than originally intended will finally open 27 years later when Barrett, now mustache-less and entirely gray, cuts the ribbon.
8. Why doesn’t the streetcar go to X?
The Hop’s route has been debated for years. It’s been debated for so many years that the purchasing power of the original federal allocation has declined significantly. Inflation adjusted, which the federal funds were not, today’s $54.9 million should have been $102.4 million. But because of inaction on the part of local and state officials, it was not.
The reason this matters is because the project was so reliant on the federals funds (similar to a highway interchange), that it could have been much larger if the funds were used when they were first available. The $289 million, allocated in 1991, would have bought a $542 million system in today’s dollars. That could have connected the airport, Miller Park (or then County Stadium), the arena, UW-Milwaukee, Marquette University and much more.
The reduced purchasing power, and utility law changes, set the limit at approximately two miles. The short route, with its twists and turns, connects about as many jobs, residences and hotels as possible. It’s easy to assume that a longer line would bring substantially more utility, but it’s hard to find a more logical two mile route to start with.
9. Has anyone lost an election because of The Hop?
No. Despite polling data from the Marquette Law School that showed the streetcar to be quite unpopular while it was under construction, not a single elected official that voted for the street has lost a race to a streetcar opponent.
Alderman Robert Donovan attempted to make it a key issue in his campaign for mayor against Barrett and lost by 20 points.
Chantia Lewis defeated streetcar opponent Robert Puente in 2016 for a council seat on the northwest side and has since voted for a plan to extend the line. Cavalier Johnson, who previously worked for Barrett, won an open seat that was previously held by streetcar opponent Joe Davis, Sr. and did the same. Jose G. Perez ousted streetcar supporter Jim Witkowiak in 2012, but has voted multiple times to advance the system.
Russell W. Stamper, II and Khalif Rainey replaced streetcar supporters Willie Hines and Willie Wade and both relative newcomers have voted for the project. Finally, Mark Borkowski replaced the late Joe Dudzik and has continued the late alderman’s adamant opposition to the system.
10. What about lawsuits regarding crashes on the tracks?
There actually are no pending lawsuits regarding pedestrians, motorists, bicyclists or motorcycle riders yet. However, Hupy & Abraham has expressed a willingness to represent those that would like to sue the city for incidents involving the streetcar and some individuals have started the process to do so. To sue the government in this case, one must first post a notice of injury, and a handful on individuals have done so.
City officials have been fairly tight lipped on the matter, but assistant city attorney Jan Smokowicz expressed confidence before the streetcar implementation committee regarding the city’s legal position on the proper implementation of tracks in city streets.
11. Whatever happened to the $70 million in utility costs?
When the Common Council first voted on the project in 2011, it stopped short of fully endorsing the project to start construction because of potential utility relocation costs. We Energies, AT&T and a host of other utilities released statements saying they expected those costs to be $70 million given the planned route. The companies then successfully lobbied for a state law change specifically targeted at The Hop that requires Milwaukee to pay for any relocation costs associated with the system.
In response to the law change, the city heavily altered the route to avoid major utility corridors. The line goes northbound on N. Milwaukee St. and southbound on N. Broadway to avoid much of the intersection of E. Mason St. and N. Broadway, which is loaded with underground telecommunications equipment. Similarly, the route uses only N. Jackson St. instead of pairing with N. Van Buren St. to avoid a We Energies steam tunnel.
The end result? The unexpected $70 million cost was reduced to just under $12 million.
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More about the Milwaukee Streetcar
For more project details, including the project timeline, financing, route and possible extensions, see our extensive past coverage.
- Eyes on Milwaukee: The Hop Has a Schedule - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 8th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Opens to Public - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 2nd, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: 11 Things to Know Before You Ride The Hop - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 1st, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Take A Virtual Ride on The Hop - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 29th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: When Will The Hop Have a Schedule? - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 25th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar On Time and On Budget - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 25th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: New Development Plans for Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 23rd, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: City Engaging Businesses Along The Hop Route - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 22nd, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Suffers First Collision - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 9th, 2018
- ‘Hop-able’ Open House Slated for October 10 - The Hop - Oct 4th, 2018
- Property Values Climb Along The Hop Streetcar Route - City of Milwaukee - Oct 2nd, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Service Starts November 2nd - Jeramey Jannene - Sep 28th, 2018
- Fifth and Final Milwaukee Streetcar Vehicle Due to Arrive Tomorrow - City of Milwaukee Dept. of Public Works - Sep 6th, 2018
- Promises Not Kept - Ald. Bob Donovan - Aug 28th, 2018
- Norquist: Why Milwaukee Needs a Streetcar - John Norquist - Aug 24th, 2018
- Streetcar Called “Disaster” - Ald. Mark Borkowski - Aug 17th, 2018
- Third Milwaukee Streetcar Vehicle Due to Arrive on Thursday, July 26, 2018 - City of Milwaukee Dept. of Public Works - Jul 24th, 2018
- Hop on The Hop at Bastille Days This Weekend - City of Milwaukee Dept. of Public Works - Jul 13th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Starts Widespread Testing - Jeramey Jannene - Jun 19th, 2018
- Public Invited to Hop on Board The Hop at Streetcar Open House - Mayor Tom Barrett - May 25th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Renderings for Streetcar Extensions - Jeramey Jannene - May 23rd, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: City Advances Streetcar Extension Plans - Jeramey Jannene - May 22nd, 2018
- Second Milwaukee Streetcar Vehicle Due to Arrive on Monday, May 14, 2018 - City of Milwaukee Dept. of Public Works - May 11th, 2018
- Jobs Fair for Milwaukee Streetcar Positions Set for Wednesday, May 2 at Maintenance Facility - City of Milwaukee Dept. of Public Works - Apr 26th, 2018
- Plenty of Horne: Streetcar Barn is Hopping - Michael Horne - Apr 6th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: City Presents First Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 26th, 2018
- First Milwaukee Streetcar Vehicle Has Departed Manufacturer In Pennsylvania, Due to Arrive At New Home Early Next Week - City of Milwaukee Dept. of Public Works - Mar 23rd, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: First Streetcar Heading to Milwaukee - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 16th, 2018
- Join Us Tonight For The Third Community Workshop For The Moving Milwaukee Forward Study - City of Milwaukee - Jan 31st, 2018
- Bastille Days announces new footprint for 2018 festival - East Town Association - Jan 25th, 2018
- Op Ed: Don’t Make Streetcar Rides Free - Jay Bullock - Jan 2nd, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: $65 Million Spent on Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 18th, 2017
- Transit Workers Union Announces Milwaukee Streetcar Labor Peace Agreement - Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998 - Dec 1st, 2017
- Plenty of Horne: How Will Streetcar Stops Be Designed? - Michael Horne - Nov 27th, 2017
- City of Milwaukee Issues RFP For Milwaukee Streetcar Marketing Services - City of Milwaukee Dept. of Public Works - Nov 21st, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Who Wants To Market The Streetcar? - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 20th, 2017
- Will Streetcar Gentrify Bronzeville? - Elliot Hughes - Nov 8th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: City Holding Streetcar Planning Meetings Saturday - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 3rd, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: See Streetcar Floors Made Locally - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 26th, 2017
- New poll shows Milwaukee area’s divided feelings on Foxconn, views on other topics as Marquette Law School launches expanded public policy program - Marquette University - Oct 24th, 2017
- Mayor Barrett needs to start listening to the people - Ald. Bob Donovan - Oct 24th, 2017
- Mayor’s Chief of Staff Responds to Ald. Zielinski - Patrick Curley - Oct 24th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Zielinski Again Attacks Mayor, Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 24th, 2017
- Ald. Zielinski: Mayor diverts additional funding for streetcar that could go to more cops - Ald. Tony Zielinski - Oct 23rd, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Potawatomi Gives $10 Million To Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 6th, 2017
- City and Potawatomi strike 12-year, $10 million streetcar presenting sponsorship agreement, includes free rides for the first 12 months - City of Milwaukee - Oct 6th, 2017
- How Streetcar Could Change King Drive - Elizabeth Baker - Oct 5th, 2017
- The Streetcar, Public Safety and Our Budget Crisis An Honest Assessment of Milwaukee’s Status Quo - Ald. Bob Donovan - Oct 4th, 2017
- Alderman Zielinski tells Mayor Barrett: Cut the streetcar, don’t cut protective services - Ald. Tony Zielinski - Sep 27th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Republicans Heap Hate On Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Sep 7th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: City Chooses Streetcar Operator - Jeramey Jannene - Sep 6th, 2017
- Milwaukee Streetcar Construction on Target to Meet Residential Preference Program, DBE Goals - City of Milwaukee Dept. of Public Works - Jul 21st, 2017
- Friday Photos: Streetcar Tracks Getting Road Tested - Jeramey Jannene - Jun 30th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: $30 Million Spent on Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - May 19th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Track Getting Installed - Jeramey Jannene - May 12th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: County Gets Waiver on Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Apr 17th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Rails Being Welded - Jeramey Jannene - Apr 7th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: City Won’t Delay Streetcar for County - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 28th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: County Board Okays Bid for Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 23rd, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Track Steel Has Arrived - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 16th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Should County Operate Streetcar? - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 8th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Track Construction Starts in April - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 17th, 2017
- Streetsblog: 80 Transit Projects in 2017 - Angie Schmitt - Feb 6th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: The Milwaukee Streetcar is Hiring - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 20th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Project Receives Federal Grant - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 12th, 2016
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Cincinnati Streetcar Opens - Jeramey Jannene - Sep 19th, 2016
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Okays Streetcar to Bucks Arena - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 6th, 2016
- Eyes on Milwaukee: $6.5 Million in Streetcar Savings - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 26th, 2016
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Donovan Lies About Streetcar Suit - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 15th, 2016
- Eyes on Milwaukee: BID Sells Streetcar-Related Development - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 15th, 2016
- Murphy’s Law: Do Millennials Oppose the Streetcar? - Bruce Murphy - Dec 15th, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Pennsylvania Company Wins Streetcar Contract - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 13th, 2015
- Plenty of Horne: City Accepts $14 Million Federal Streetcar Grant - Michael Horne - Oct 29th, 2015
- Milwaukee to Receive $14.2 Million Grant for Streetcar Extension - Mayor Tom Barrett - Oct 26th, 2015
- Back in the News: Anti-Streetcar Petition Dies - Bruce Murphy - Aug 28th, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Scott Walker Aids Milwaukee Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 13th, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Construction Starts in October - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 10th, 2015
- Murphy’s Law: The Strange Politics of Anti-Streetcar-ites - Bruce Murphy - Jun 18th, 2015
- Plenty of Horne: Bucks Plan Envisions Arena Streetcar - Michael Horne - Apr 8th, 2015
- A Short History of Milwaukee’s Old Streetcar System - Ken Smith - Mar 31st, 2015
- Plenty of Horne: Davis Sets, Cancels Meeting on Streetcar - Michael Horne - Mar 17th, 2015
- Back in the News: Anti-Streetcar Petition Drive Fails - Bruce Murphy - Mar 5th, 2015
- Friday Photos: Streetcar Signing Is Quite a Celebration - Michael Horne - Feb 13th, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Milwaukee Streetcar Approved - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 10th, 2015
- Murphy’s Law: Who is “Lobbying” For the Streetcar? - Bruce Murphy - Feb 5th, 2015
- Data Wonk: Will Streetcar Help The Inner City? - Bruce Thompson - Feb 4th, 2015
- Back in the News: City Attorney Says Streetcar Petitions Might be Moot - Bruce Murphy - Jan 30th, 2015
- Data Wonk: Millennials And The Streetcar - Bruce Thompson - Jan 27th, 2015
- Op-Ed: Why I Support the Streetcar - Russell Rossetto - Jan 26th, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Responses Shows Wide Support - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 22nd, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Approved, but Held - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 21st, 2015
- Murphy’s Law: Koch-Funded Group Backs Anti-Streetcar Drive - Bruce Murphy - Jan 20th, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Backers Say They Have the Votes - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 20th, 2015
- Murphy’s Law: Who Is Funding the Anti-Streetcar Effort? - Bruce Murphy - Jan 20th, 2015
- Op Ed: Why the Streetcar Won’t Work - Samuel Jensen - Jan 14th, 2015
- Murphy’s Law: Will Anti-Streetcar Referendum Succeed? - Bruce Murphy - Jan 9th, 2015
- The Story Behind the Streetcar Referendum - Michael Horne and Bruce Murphy - Jan 8th, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Delays Streetcar Until January - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 16th, 2014
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Committee Takes No Action on Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 10th, 2014
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Committee Approves Milwaukee Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 9th, 2014
- Plenty of Horne: RACM Approves Tax Funding for Streetcar - Michael Horne - Dec 2nd, 2014
- Plenty of Horne: How to Sell the Streetcar - Michael Horne - Nov 28th, 2014
- Plenty of Horne: Next Stops For The Streetcar - Michael Horne - Nov 24th, 2014
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Barrett Moving Forward With Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 18th, 2014
- Plenty of Horne: Who Will Be Streetcar Operator? - Michael Horne - May 8th, 2014
- Back in the News: A Streetcar Named Cooperation? - Dave Reid - Apr 27th, 2014
- Streetsblog: How a Streetcar Spurs Development - Angie Schmitt - Nov 3rd, 2013
- Plenty of Horne: Streetcar Social - Michael Horne - Sep 12th, 2013
- Republicans Move to Kill Milwaukee Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - May 9th, 2013
- Plenty of Horne: Mayor Says Streetcar is “Trojan Horse” - Michael Horne - Apr 17th, 2013
- Streetcar Meeting on Tuesday - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 29th, 2012
- Whoops, We Changed Our Mind - Dave Reid - Sep 27th, 2012
- Donovan’s New Anti-Streetcar Allies - Jeramey Jannene - Aug 16th, 2012
- Battle of the Bobs: Donovan vs Bauman Streetcar Press Conference - Jeramey Jannene - May 18th, 2012
- Milwaukee Streetcar Hearing at Frontier Airlines Center - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 15th, 2011
- Important Hoan Bridge and Milwaukee Streetcar Meetings this Week - Dave Reid - Nov 14th, 2011
- Milwaukee Streetcar Passes Common Council, Proceeds to Final Engineering - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 26th, 2011
- Alderman Donovan Proposes Delaying the Streetcar Project - Dave Reid - Jul 19th, 2011
- Barrett says Streetcar is an investment in growing Milwaukee - Patti Wenzel - Jul 13th, 2011
- Keep the Milwaukee Streetcar Moving Forward - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 8th, 2011
- Milwaukee Streetcar at Apex - Jeramey Jannene - Jun 16th, 2011
- Milwaukee Streetcar Takes Key Step Forward - Jeramey Jannene - May 6th, 2010
- Streetcars and Trams Around the World - Dave Reid - Feb 1st, 2010
- Milwaukee Streetcar Meeting This Thursday - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 5th, 2009
- Downtown Streetcar Open House - Jeramey Jannene - Sep 23rd, 2009
- Milwaukee Streetcar Routes Unveiled by Mayor Barrett - Jeramey Jannene - Sep 21st, 2009
- Common Council Creates Streetcar Committee - Dave Reid - Jun 18th, 2009
- Milwaukee Streetcar Round-Up - Jeramey Jannene - Apr 19th, 2009
- Vote For Your Favorite Milwaukee Streetcar Route - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 25th, 2009
- Design Your Own Streetcar Route - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 23rd, 2009
- Milwaukee Streetcar Map - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 21st, 2009
- Streetcars Coming to Milwaukee - Dave Reid - Mar 14th, 2009
- Palomar or Streetcar? - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 22nd, 2009