A few months back, Slate streetcar booster, Henry Grabar, declared the Kansas City streetcar line “a runaway success.” One wonders how something that is “free” could not be a success, but as the lines chug their way through the winter, we may soon find out.
Grabar, by the way, titled his article, “Did an American City Finally Build a Good Streetcar?” Huh? In the run-up to the streetcar vote, boosters were telling taxpayers that just about every other city but Kansas City had built a “good” streetcar if not a great one.
To its credit, the streetcar authorities do publish their numbers. To begin, they set their anticipated forecast at a low 2700 riders per day so that when the real number exceeded the goal they could boast of the streetcar’s surprisingly strong performance.
This seemed to be happening when the streetcar debuted in the summer of 2016. In July, more than 230,000 rides were recorded or about 7400 a day. Since then, however, the numbers have declined month by month without a pause.
The December to January drop was particularly precipitous: 128,155 to 89,660 or a full 30 percent. The fact that even the January numbers topped the anticipated ridership suggests that someone consciously lowballed those original projections.
The January numbers were buoyed by the women’s march for something or another on January 21. There were more than 8,000 rides taken that day, more than twice as many as any day in January save for the following Saturday. The clamor for free stuff on the 21st apparently included free streetcar rides.
One would not wish failure on a done deal that does have some merit were it not for the insistence by boosters that the downtown line–God help us–is just the beginning.