Nearly three weeks after it opened, Kansas City’s downtown streetcar ridership counts continue to surpass projections despite two service interruptions this week.
The system so far has tallied 128,760 rider trips and is averaging more than 6,400 trips per day, according to figures provided Thursday to the Streetcar Authority board of directors.
“The numbers have far exceeded where we thought we would start,” Tom Gerend, Streetcar Authority executive director, told the board. He said original projections were for an average of 2,700 riders per day.
Surprises include higher ridership than expected on weekends and into the night.
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The weekend numbers prompted the board to vote to increase the vehicle use on Sundays. The system had anticipated using two vehicles on Sundays, but that number will be boosted to three vehicles during the day on Sundays through Labor Day.
That adds about $10,000 to the system cost, but the budget can absorb that, Gerend said.
Average daily ridership has been 6,438 people. The average for weekdays has been 4,615, while trips have topped 9,110 on weekends, not counting the grand opening May 6-8. Grand opening ridership was 32,326 trips.
The $100 million system runs 2.2 miles from River Market to Union Station.
Because ridership has been so high, the Streetcar Authority board said it also would explore the idea of purchasing a fifth vehicle for its fleet.
That’s a long-term decision that would involve an investment of more than $3.2 million. It can take 18 months to two years for a streetcar to be custom-built.
When the novelty wears off and a more regular ridership pattern emerges, the authority plans a survey to find out who is using the streetcar. But Gerend and other board members observed that the streetcar has caused a new atmosphere downtown.
“We’ve created a new social space in downtown,” Gerend said, noting that the vehicles are filled with diverse crowds that include downtown workers, residents and visitors.
Unlike individuals driving alone in cars, the streetcars motivate people to talk to each other, said Susan Ford Robertson, board vice chairwoman. As people stand in the cars or sit facing each other, they just naturally strike up conversations, she said.
“I have new commuter friends,” agreed board member David Johnson, who said he talks to far more people on the streetcar than he did while walking around downtown.
A report on factors behind the derailment may come Friday, but Gerend said initial indications are that it resulted from a combination of factors, including heavy rain that washed debris into a track switch near Union Station. He said the manufacturer is analyzing the equipment, and operators are looking at ways to prevent the problem from recurring.
On Wednesday, a streetcar construction official observed smoke near an electrified streetcar pole south of Main and 20th streets. Officials said Thursday the smoke did not involve anything burning and might have been steam.
Crews bypassed electricity around that pole and the system resumed operation after four hours, while the cause is being investigated.