Last year, Kansas City’s downtown streetcar opened May 6, too late to serve the Big 12. So this year, the system is gearing up to be a big part of the Big 12 Men’s Basketball tournament at the Sprint Center, March 8-11.
“We did not open for the Big 12, so this will be our first time operating the streetcar for the Big 12, plus the other basketball tournaments in March,” said Donna Mandelbaum, spokeswoman for the Kansas City Streetcar Authority. “And so we’re doing a lot of things to prepare our cars and our streetcar stops for the visitors that are coming downtown.”
Here are five key things to know at this time, according to Mandelbaum and Streetcar Authority Executive Director Tom Gerend:
▪ The system has a four-vehicle fleet, with three vehicles that operate on the route from River Market to Union Station, plus a spare. But operators are studying how they may be able to deploy all four vehicles if crowds merit it. The last time they used all four vehicles was during the opening three-day weekend, when the system tallied more than 30,000 trips.
During this winter, ridership has fluctuated greatly depending on weather and downtown activities. But the system tallied 13,384 trips last Saturday, one of the biggest days ever. Three cars handled that load, serving crowds going to the Folk Alliance International at Crown Center, to Bartle Hall, and others just enjoying a gorgeous winter day. Mandelbaum said if Big 12 crowds are even bigger, the system could potentially deploy its fourth vehicle, but that’s not yet certain.
A meeting is scheduled Tuesday with streetcar, Big 12 and city officials to do more planning for the tournament, and more details will be forthcoming later.
▪ The Streetcar Authority is also working with the local bus agency, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, to have “bridge buses” available in the event of any streetcar interruption of service. Buses can often respond and carry passengers in an emergency or if there’s an accident that blocks the tracks.
▪ The cars generally run until midnight on weeknights. The Big 12 tournament starts on a Wednesday, so streetcar officials will study game times for March 8 and March 9 to determine whether nighttime service hours should be extended. That decision is pending. The cars run until 2 a.m. on weekends, so that should be late enough for the late games on March 10 and 11.
▪ The cars try for a 10-minute headway between stops during peak weekday hours. But if the cars are quite crowded, it can expand the wait times out to 15-18 minutes. So passengers should plan accordingly.
▪ For out-of-town visitors, downtown hotels are preparing maps and other information to let people know about the streetcar service.