Should the Streetcar Be Free?
How much would it cost to make The Hop free after 2019? And is it worth it?
Will the city maintain The Hop as a free system beyond its first year?
Beyond the Mayor’s statement, there is another sign the city is considering the option. A formal bidding process for equipment to actually collect fares has yet to be opened. The city anticipated charging $1 to ride the system through a proof-of-payment system beginning at the end of 2019.
Alderman Robert Bauman is also in favor of maintaining the streetcar as free for as long as possible, or until the system is extended. “I think that’s absolutely a wise idea,” said Bauman. “I hope we are able to put together sufficient business and foundation support to make it free.”
Rides on The Hop are free for the first year as a result of a 12-year, $10 million presenting sponsorship agreement with Potawatomi Hotel & Casino and an 18-month federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) grant. According to the council-approved 2014 plan, additional sponsorships could come from station naming rights and other sponsorship arrangements.
The 2.1-miles-long system has exceeded ridership projections to-date, posting an average daily ridership of 2,453 in December, 28 percent more than the projected 1,850 riders. The December numbers were also an improvement over November, with ridership growing 6.6 percent (excluding opening weekend).
But Atlanta (down 48 percent) and Detroit (down 40 percent) saw drops in ridership once their respective systems started charging. Ridership eventually started to increase again in Detroit, where ridership has surged in the summer, and Atlanta as well.
Kansas City continued offering free rides beyond the first year, funded in large part by a levy on nearby properties, and has seen substantial higher ridership than peer systems. Planners projected 2,700 daily riders, but 2018 saw an average ridership of 5,794. The highest December ridership day on Milwaukee’s streetcar was the 15th, with approximately 5,000 rides taken.
Cincinnati, which has a relatively-straight route similar to Kansas City, continues to see declining ridership. Before the system could open it became a political wedge issue and a new mayor was elected who opposes the project.
Portland, launched it original streetcar line in 2001 and built it without federal funds. Up until September 1, 2012 it offered free service in an area known as the Free Rail Zone or Fareless Square (Downtown and Pearl District). The system recently raised the fare from $1 to $2. Ridership has continued to climb and the line, now 7.2 miles long, has been extended many times.
Ridership on modern streetcar systems is counted by in-door sensors.
Barrett said the lakefront expansion, for which much of the track is already in place, is on track to open next year. “I want to be clear. We want to expand this north into Bronzeville. We want to expand this south towards Greenfield [Ave].”
The city recently completed a federally-funded, land-use plan for expanding the route north and south. Urban Milwaukee reported earlier this month that the city is considering a one-stop extension north to the convention center by 2020.
If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits, all detailed here.
For more project details, including the project timeline, financing, route and possible extensions, see our extensive past coverage.
- Transportation: First Streetcar Smart Kiosks Installed - Jeramey Jannene - Apr 3rd, 2021
- Plats and Parcels: Lakefront Streetcar Extension Scheduled for June 2022 Opening - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 6th, 2020
- Transportation: Should Milwaukee Stop The Hop? - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 13th, 2020
- Transportation: The Hop Now Wears a Mask - Jeramey Jannene - Aug 18th, 2020
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Is A Couture Deal Finally Coming? - Jeramey Jannene - May 13th, 2020
- Transportation: SUV Driver Runs Into The Hop - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 28th, 2020
- Transportation: Streetcar Kiosks Could Bring In $500,000 Annually - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 20th, 2020
- Thanks A Million, Hop Riders! - The Hop - Feb 19th, 2020
- Transportation: We Energies Will Sponsor Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 10th, 2020
- Transportation: Streetcar Ridership Up in January Versus 2019 - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 7th, 2020
Read more about Milwaukee Streetcar here