Jeramey Jannene

Streetcar Service Goes From Bad To Worse

Maintenance issue leaves it with just one vehicle running Monday, causing 40-minute waits.

By - May 3rd, 2022 02:06 pm
The Hop, Milwaukee's streetcar, pictured on N. Broadway during testing. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Hop, Milwaukee’s streetcar, pictured on N. Broadway in 2018. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Talk about a case of the Mondays. The Hop’s maintenance issues reached a critical state on the morning of May 2.

“Due to mechanical issues, streetcar service will operate in increments of 40 mins until further notice. We apologize in advance for the inconvenience this may cause,” tweeted the streetcar system’s Twitter account.

That was a sign the system was down to one of five vehicles being available. Forty minutes is the approximate time it takes for a streetcar to do the entire 4.2-mile round trip.

The system, as of early April, was already down to just three vehicles and a reduced schedule. Two of the vehicles need routine wheel maintenance but the jacks used to lift the 40-ton vehicles are out of service.

According to a system spokesperson, a third vehicle now also needs that routine maintenance after reaching a mileage threshold.

“Unfortunately, a mechanical issue with a pantograph forced a fourth vehicle out of service,” said the spokesperson. The pantograph is the apparatus atop the vehicle that connects to the overhead power system. Milwaukee’s system relies on the pantograph going up and down as the system uses a battery for portions of the route instead of overhead wires.

The issue was fixed within four hours of the initial notice and two vehicles were again available, allowing the system to resume its limited service schedule.

“We have secured both short- and long-term solutions to accomplish [the wheel repairs] and are working to return those vehicles to service as quickly as possible,” said the spokesperson. The steel wheels on the vehicles need regular maintenance to ensure they roll smoothly and quietly.

The system is operating on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., reduced from 5 a.m. to midnight. On weekends it is operating from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., reduced from 7 a.m. to midnight.

And during hours it is operating, the system is operating less frequently, with 20-minute headways (one vehicle passes a station every 20 minutes). The regular service schedule calls for 15-minute headways on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.; this is done by adding a third vehicle to what is normally a two-vehicle operation.

Those looking to avoid increased wait times for The Hop should download the TransLoc smartphone application that shows the real-time location of the vehicles.

The Hop has spent the vast majority of 2022 on a reduced service schedule of one kind or another. The system operated with only 20-minute headways from Dec. 27 to March 7 because of “the impact of COVID-19” on the system staff.

The Hop is operated by private contractor Transdev on behalf of the City of Milwaukee. The city-owned operations and maintenance facility, the site of the disabled lift jacks, is located at 450 N. 5th St. underneath Interstate 794.

The 40-ton, 66-foot-long streetcar vehicles, made by Pennsylvania-based Brookville Equipment Corp., were delivered in 2018. The vehicles are expected to last 30 years. The city purchased the fifth vehicle in anticipation of the lakefront line extension, but that extension has been repeatedly delayed because it requires the base of The Couture tower to be finished. The high-rise building is now slated for a fall 2023 opening.

The 2022 city budget calls for $4.6 million to be spent on operating the streetcar system. That expense is to be offset by $1.44 million in direct revenue, with the remainder coming from the city’s parking revenue. Direct revenue sources include Potawatomi Hotel & Casino ($833,333), other sponsors and a federal grant ($214,000). Transdev’s contract includes a provision for payment based on service hours provided, so a reduction in service would save the city money.

Milwaukee plays host to the Community Streetcar Coalition later this month. The annual conference is designed to share project updates and best practices. Approximately 100 people are expected to attend.

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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.

Read more about Milwaukee Streetcar here

Categories: Transportation

2 thoughts on “Transportation: Streetcar Service Goes From Bad To Worse”

  1. tornado75 says:

    i am really sorry to hear about all these maintenance issues. i really like riding The hop. it is easy, free and fun. i live on the east side so it is as if the hop was developed for me. i always feel badly that the hop doesn’t go all over the city. this is one of the best things about milwaukee, again at least for me. fix it.

  2. RetiredResident says:

    What a wonderful diversion of money that was intended to fill potholes. How long will we be saddled with this boondoggle before a mayor has the stones to stop throwing good money after bad just so eastside prats can have a free ride to the local coffee shop.

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