Jeramey Jannene

Ridership Falls for The Hop

Begins 2nd year of operation with November ridership down from November 2018.

By - Dec 16th, 2019 04:37 pm
The Hop, Milwaukee's streetcar system, operating in the snow in November 2019. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Hop, Milwaukee’s streetcar system, operating in the snow in November 2019. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

November 2019 ridership data is now available for The Hop, which means for the first time year-over-year comparison data is available. It’s also the first time since March that average daily ridership has fallen short of the estimated 1,800 rides per day a 2011 study projected the system would attract.

After a year of operations, a surge of ridership from The Hop being the new, free thing appears to have leveled off. The system recorded 1,767 average daily rides in November, compared to 2,459 in November 2018, a drop of 28 percent. The 2018 figure excludes the 16,413 rides that were taken over the three-day opening weekend of the system.

Ridership continues to rise and fall with the amount of activity along the route. Thanksgiving (645 rides) was the slowest day of the month, mirroring 2018 with approximately 900 rides (2018 data does not include precise daily totals), and one of the slowest days of the year. Black Friday was the busiest day of the month with 2,859 rides, again mirroring 2018, but far below the approximately 5,100 rides reported last November. Sunday continues to be the slowest day of the week.

For the calendar year, ridership continues to exceed estimates with 2,088 daily rides. But if a 28 percent year-over-year drop holds across the entire second year, the system would only record 1,503 daily rides. Yet falling that far relies on the system’s ridership dropping substantially in the system’s slowest month on record, January (from 1,560 rides per day in 2019 to 1,123 in 2020), and that seems unlikely as few days in the system’s history have recorded fewer than 1,123 rides, let alone for a monthly average.

Ridership is tabulated by automatic passenger counters embedded in the doors of the vehicles. That system failed in at least one of the vehicles during February, when ridership was already sagging as downtown activity dropped off with the colder-than-normal winter. Daily ridership data is available on the system website.

The 2.1-mile system is free to ride as a result of a three-year federal operating grant and a $10 million, 12-year sponsorship agreement with Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. An additional $90,000 was contributed by business network services provided Everstream, with a holiday-themed, Everstream-branded streetcar operating on the route through the end of the year.

According to the city’s budget, The Hop’s 2019 operation is being funded by a federal grant for operations ($3,457,754), the 12-year, $10 million Potawatomi Hotel & Casino sponsorship ($691,670) and other advertising deals ($250,000).

Fare equipment, for which $400,000 remains set aside from the project’s $128 million capital budget, has not been purchased. As part of the deal to bring the Democratic National Convention to Milwaukee, the system must be free while the convention is in town.

A procurement process is ongoing for a kiosk system with real-time arrival data and advertising at each station. City officials estimated that revenue from the kiosks would allow the system to be maintained as free in its current state.

The city’s 2020 budget includes $4.65 million for streetcar operations, including the lakefront line extension, with funding coming from a federal operating grant ($3.5 million), Potawatomi ($781,000) and advertising ($368,000).

A three-mile expansion plan remains on hold by the Milwaukee Common Council. A previously approved expansion to the lakefront, scheduled to open in 2020, faces uncertainty now that The Couture apartment tower, through which it was supposed to run, has not broken ground.

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Categories: Transportation

2 thoughts on “Transportation: Ridership Falls for The Hop”

  1. Ryan Cotic says:

    Funny how the democrats said that the hop must be free as a requirement of hosting the democratic convention in Milwaukee. Sadly a “free ride” is the motto of the democratic party! Why not let someone else pay for your toys…

  2. Trmott says:

    It puzzles me as to why ridership goes down in bad weather and up in months when it’s more likely to be nice outside. Considering that one can walk about as fast as riding the train between any of the points along its route, why would someone ride? One reason to ride it seems to me is to moderate the elements of wind, snow, icy sidewalks, etc. But then, when it’s nasty weather, Uber beats the train by a wide margin… and I guess as a society we’re not much about walking anywhere these days, even in nice weather, despite it being good for us to do so. (My doctor tells me!)

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