Cincy looks to Kansas City for streetcar advice

Posted at 12:25 PM, May 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-09 22:53:19-04

CINCINNATI - With four months until Cincinnati's streetcar is scheduled to carry riders, the Queen City is looking westward for ideas for making its own streetcar unveiling a hit in September.

Kansas City started operating its new streetcar last weekend, and several Cincinnatians were on hand to take notes. As the southwest region director for All Aboard Ohio, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting public transportation, Derek Bauman hopes Cincinnati can recreate the party atmosphere he witnessed in Kansas City.

Streetcar Matchup: Paris of the Plains vs. The QueenCityInfographic



"There was an electricity there in Kansas City. There were lines to get on the entire weekend. They had 27,000 riders over the course of the weekend," Bauman said back in Cincinnati on Monday.

"There were fireworks. There was a carnival. There was events at each of the stops going on that were sponsored by local businesses."

That's the same feel Cincinnati wants for its streetcar premiere, council member Amy Murray said.

"A lot of the restaurants along the way will have specials for the streetcar. There will probably be some musicians and things like that," Murray said Monday.

 "There's been a lot of community collaboration, what type of events there will be.  So, we're looking forward to it.  We should be able to announce the opening weekend within the next couple of weeks,"  she said.

There are similarities between the Kansas City and Cincinnati streetcars, but not everything is the same. Rides on the Kansas City streetcar are free for a year, but Cincinnati's will cost $1 for a two-hour ticket and $2 for a day pass.

"If we are able to get sponsorships, then we'll be able to have free rides that (first) weekend," Murray said.

The Cincinnati and Kansas City streetcar systems  use the same cars, and the ride is "smooth" and "quiet," Bauman said.

It's also comfortable and easily accessible, said Jon Harmon, another streetcar supporter from Over-the-Rhine.

"This is the first in America: 100 percent low floor.  There's no steps at all.  If you're in a wheelchair or stroller, you just roll right on, which will be really convenient.  Lots of places to sit down and grab on," Harmon said.

First, the five Cincinnati cars have to finish their testing and rack up 500 kilometers on the tracks, in what's known as the burn-in period.

  "We have one car that's completed the burn-in period and another four that are in various stages of completion," said city spokesperson Rocky Merz.

Then, the operator has to finish hiring and train the 30 or so employees before the system can open to the public.

"There's maintenance workers.  There's drivers.  There's folks that are going to work in customer service.  All that training has to be completed," Merz said.

Kansas City officials say they've seen $1.7 billion in development along the streetcar route since it was announced.

"I spoke to business owners of restaurants, of apartments, that have been developed and the owners told me specifically we would not have located here but for the streetcar," Bauman said. "So, they are seeing a lot of economic development along the route as we are, and they're making the point that they're there because of the streetcar investing in their community."

Nobody has a specific figure for the Cincinnati route other than to say it's between $500 million and $1 billion -- maybe more.