Problem-plagued streetcar shut down for weekend; city withholds $4 million in payments

CINCINNATI – Plagued by mechanical problems, the downtown streetcar has been pulled out of operation until at least Monday, and city officials revealed they are withholding $4 million in payments until the company that built it fixes it.

“This is unacceptable,” City Manager Harry Black said Thursday, referring to shutdowns by four or all five streetcars over the last 2-3 days.

Metro will operate buses on the streetcar route between the Banks and Findlay Market while the streetcars are being repaired, and the city plans to bill CAF, the streetcar builder, for the cost, Black said.

Black noted that service issues have reoccurred since streetcar operations began in September 2016 and he threatened to sue CAF if problems persist.

“Due to these ongoing manufacturer issues, at my direction, the city has not paid CAF since November of 2016, nor has the city agreed to final acceptance of the vehicles,” Black said in a memo to Mayor John Cranley and city council.

The streetcar is owned and funded by the city, managed by SORTA (Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority), and operated by Transdev, a company that operates streetcars around the world.

SORTA blamed manufacturing and design defects for equipment failures. Most issues are related to air compressors that operate the sanders, which are essential to slowing down in slick conditions, SORTA said in a news release.

Below-zero temperatures exacerbate the problem, officials have said.

“We are working with the City of Cincinnati, CAF and Transdev to resolve problems and restore service as quickly as possible,” said Paul Grether, Director of Rail Services for Metro.  “Suspending service will allow the team to work intensively on the identified issues with the goal of providing service that is reliable and safe.”

Black said the city would continue to withhold payments and final acceptance of the vehicles "until they are in full working order, including air compressors, brakes and the wiring systems."

CAF "has a team on the ground in CIncinnati and we are fully engaging them, including through the City Solicitor's office," Black said.

Metro buses will operate the streetcar route between The Banks and Findlay Market during the streetcar shutdown. Here are the specifics:

  • Buses will show streetcar destination sign and will stop at specially marked stops near streetcar stations.
  • Buses will operate on the streetcar schedule.
  • Streetcar tickets should be purchased at the ticket vending machines or on the Cincy EZRide app ($1 for 2-hours or $2 for day passes).
  • Streetcar tickets will be honored on the Metro buses that serve the streetcar route.

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