They thought it would take a year, but it took only five months. The Kansas City Streetcar Authority marked the millionth ride milestone on Friday.
The authority calculated that somewhere between noon and 1 p.m., the downtown streetcar starter route from River Market to Union Station tallied its millionth ride. The count is a measure of boardings, not individual riders.
Streetcar Authority spokeswoman Donna Mandelbaum and Kansas City municipal government spokesman Chris Hernandez handed out thank-you cards over the noon hour at the 14th and Main Street streetcar stop to mark the occasion.
“We’re not christening an individual rider,” Hernandez said, noting that the rides have been tallied up by the community. But a Thanks a Million celebration is planned from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday on 14th Street between Main and Walnut streets, in the downtown Power & Light District. The celebration will feature games, giveaways and music.
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The streetcar system launched May 6 and since then has averaged 6,600 rides per day, far more than the original projections of 2,700 per day. So far, the highest ridership was in July, with 233,000 rides counted. August was also a big month, while September dropped off a bit, to 179,000 rides. Authority officials expect ridership to continue to drop as the weather gets colder but say it is still expected to remain so robust that they are planning to buy two extra vehicles over the next two years, adding to the four-vehicle fleet.
Riding the streetcar is free, and some people have questioned how the system can get an accurate ride count without a fare box. Mandelbaum explained that the system measures passenger boardings with automated passenger counters over each door.
That is the industry standard, used by many transit systems. The counters record people as they get on and off, but ride numbers only count boardings. However, if someone rides from the River Market to Union Station, gets off, and then rides back to River Market, that counts as two boardings even though it’s a single passenger. The data are downloaded daily and reviewed by a third party for accuracy.
The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, which operates the city’s bus system and is independent of the Streetcar Authority, relies on fare box information for its passenger numbers. But it also has the automated counters on about a third of its bus fleet, said Dick Jarrold, director of system development and engineering.
Jarrold said the streetcar system has a more modern system of those counters on its vehicles. He said the ATA helped the Streetcar Authority with manual counts this summer, to confirm the automated counters, and found them to be accurate to within 1.4 percent. When there was a discrepancy, he said, the automated counters were in fact undercounting, rather than overcounting, the numbers.
“We are very confident the APC data is good data,” Jarrold said.