KC Streetcar

Survey shows KC streetcar is downtown small-business booster

Kansas City streetcars boost businesses

Six months after Kansas City's new streetcar began rolling, businesses along the route say they are seeing new customers and increased sales.
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Six months after Kansas City's new streetcar began rolling, businesses along the route say they are seeing new customers and increased sales.

Kansas City’s downtown stores and other small retail establishments say the streetcar has been good for business.

Among downtown’s small businesses that responded to a survey last fall, a whopping 97 percent said the streetcar has had a positive impact on their business, and 80 percent said they had seen an uptick in revenue and foot traffic.

“A lot of the merchants are seeing new customers,” John Pajor, business advocate for Kansas City municipal government, told the Streetcar Authority on Thursday.

The streetcar started running May 6 from the River Market to Union Station. This past fall, KC BizCare and the Downtown Council partnered with the Streetcar Authority to survey retailers right along the route that had endured the long construction schedule. They reached out to more than 80 establishments, and 41 responded, providing data on their experience from May through September.

Businesses included restaurants, shops, bars, pubs and coffee shops.

Those results are on the Kansas City streetcar’s website, kcstreetcar.org/business.

Among the highlights:

▪ 97 percent said the streetcar has had a positive impact.

▪ 80 percent cited a positive revenue change, with 40 percent citing a moderate income increase and 40 percent citing a more significant uptick.

▪ 83 percent also saw a positive increase in foot traffic. The impact was most profound over the lunch hour and on Fridays and Saturdays, with some increase on Sundays as well.

Two of the nine survey questions allowed businesses to elaborate on what future improvements they would like to see. Of the 26 respondents who elaborated, nine wanted the existing starter line expanded and six expressed interest in either additional parking or a park-and-ride lot for transit users.

Several respondents commented that they were extremely pleased with the new downtown transit amenity.

But not everyone has gained. Sue Burke, a frequent streetcar critic who owns Kansas City Air Filter in the River Market, tweeted Thursday that she was not surveyed. She said she continues to struggle with parking problems for her customers as a result of the streetcar, and that she has lost business, not gained, as a result of the streetcar.

In 2016, the streetcar logged nearly 1.4 million trips, with a daily average for the entire time period of 5,830. That was far ahead of original projections. Peak ridership was in July, with more than 233,000 rides. Passenger numbers have dropped off significantly since the weather got cold, with 128,000 rides in December.

Streetcar Authority Executive Director Tom Gerend said the agency expects January and February will have the lowest ridership. But he noted that even on the coldest days, the streetcar generally tallies more than 2,000 rides. Those are the die-hard users. And the streetcar topped 8,000 rides on Jan. 21, the Saturday of the local Women’s March following Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration.

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley