The Kansas City streetcar system is closer to buying two more vehicles, and the streetcar chief executive says it can’t happen soon enough.
“We need two more cars yesterday,” Streetcar Authority Executive Director Tom Gerend said Thursday, while he noted that their arrival is at least two years away. “We are going to be under extreme pressure in the next two years to just keep up with demand.”
Ridership has been more than twice what was projected for the four-vehicle fleet, so the system is already regularly deploying three cars and sometimes all four. That can leave the system without a spare when maintenance issues or emergencies arise.
It’s a good problem to have, because it shows the popularity of the streetcar for moving people through downtown from River Market to Union Station. But the Kansas City Downtown Streetcar Transportation Development District board on Thursday approved the use of existing surplus funds, plus future funds, to buy two new streetcars and related services and spare parts. The cost is $11.8 million from CAF USA, which supplied the first four vehicles.
The City Council still must approve the purchase, which it will be asked to do in a few weeks. Gerend said the actual procurement will probably take 24 months.
He said this price is comparable to what Oklahoma City is paying, $36 million for six vehicles.
The purchases are possible because the taxes imposed within Kansas City’s streetcar transportation development district are generating more money than projected, especially the sales taxes. Revenue officials had revised their sales tax projections up for the TDD to $4.9 million for this budget year. But those collections are now projected to come in at $5.7 million. Property tax revenue is close to the projected $3.7 million. The city also contributes just over $2 million to the system, plus there’s parking and interest income.
“We’re doing pretty damn well,” said Mayor Sly James, one of four TDD board members, along with Matt Staub, Jeff Krum and George Wolf.
The system’s current fund balance, accumulated over the past few years, is at $9.1 million. Without the new vehicle purchases, the system could possibly at some point reduce the property tax assessment in the district. But the TDD board decided the vehicles are an urgent need and the funds are available.
If the council approves the procurement, the first vehicle would be purchased with cash, and the second purchase would be financed over 10 years.
The Streetcar Authority is also working with a consulting team to study the feasibility of expanding the existing streetcar route north to Berkley Riverfront Park. But that expansion would need additional vehicles and would be financed differently, if it occurs, Gerend said.
The results of that feasibility study are expected this summer. If a northward expansion is doable, Gerend said, the additional vehicles could perhaps be added later to this procurement request.