After 8 months, streetcar surpasses 500,000 passenger rides

Working to catch up with first-year projections
After 8 months, streetcar surpasses 500,000 passenger rides
Posted at 4:00 PM, May 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-17 16:19:13-04

CINCINNATI -- The city's newest transit system, the Cincinnati streetcar, surpassed half a million rides this week, the transit authority announced Wednesday.

As of May 16, transit officials performed an unaudited count of 511,196 passenger trips. Finalized ridership numbers will come with the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority's monthly report in a couple weeks. SORTA oversees streetcar operations on behalf of the city.

Streetcar ridership had seen a steady decline after two high-ridership months kicked off operations last September. Transit officials attributed the slow-down to the winter season, although city leaders have expressed concerns over some streetcar growing pains -- most notably its difficulty keeping on schedule and dealing with Downtown traffic, as well as initial ticketing confusion and malfunctioning arrival-time displays.

Initial ridership projections included in the streetcar's first annual budget called for roughly 3,000 rides per day. By that measure, the streetcar should have seen closer to 750,000 rides by now. However, as WCPO has previously reported, that estimate was a flat projection, not accounting for peak days or months, according to SORTA's director of rail services, Paul Grether. 

IN DEPTH: What do streetcar ridership, revenue numbers actually mean?
COLUMN: 9 takeaways from 2 months with streetcar

Also noteworthy: During its first two months, average daily ridership was nearly 1,000 rides higher than the 3,000 projection on weekends.

February saw the first increase in monthly ridership since the September launch, although it fell slightly again in March. 

Reds Opening Day last month marked the start of  what Amy Murray, City Council member and transportation committee chair, hopes will finally offer the "whole picture" of the streetcar's ridership trends. Weekend ridership surpassing weekday ridership also came as a surprise, Murray said, since initial estimates predicted the opposite.

"I'm interested to see in the summer months, since we haven't seen those months, does it pick up on the weekdays?" she told WCPO in a previous interview.

Brandy Jones, a spokesperson for SORTA, said her agency does expect ridership to rise with the temperatures.

"We do expect there to be an increase in ridership as the weather gets warmer," she said. "Even in winter months, we saw a bump in ridership on warmer days. Ridership tends to reflect both the weather and activities in the city. We've seen that in our buses, too."

Of the streetcar's $4 million annual budget, fare revenue makes up around $300,000.

Pat LaFleur reports on transportation for WCPO. Connect with him on Twitter (@pat_laFleur).