Atlanta’s over-budget and under-utilized streetcar (whodathunkit?)

 

Streetcar 2 Feb 15

File this under “least surprising news ever” (from MyAJC.com):

“Running Atlanta’s new streetcar system will cost 50 percent more than the city estimated a year ago — from a projected $3.2 million to $4.8 million, according to data provided by Atlanta officials.

“In addition, ridership on the sleek blue cars is 18 percent lower than projected. And that’s during an introductory period when it’s free to ride the Atlanta Streetcar.”

That’s a double-whammy if I ever saw one.

The ridership figure is interesting, for a couple of reasons. Obviously, it’s bad news for usage to be below projections at a time when it’s free to ride, and doesn’t bode well for what will happen when streetcar riders must pay $1 per trip. But it’s also curious because, just three weeks ago, Mayor Kasim Reed was talking up the streetcar’s ridership:

And that was when only half as many people had used it.

The cost increase may also seem like the inevitable coming to pass, but the specific elements of the increase are worth looking at. From the story:

“The city decided it would run the system because it could do so more economically than either MARTA or a private contractor. But the federal government, which is paying a large part of the expense, insisted that MARTA have some role in the project, at least at first.”

This sounds like your run-of-the-mill, lack of inter-agency coordination, at a cost of $625,000 over the next two years. But then there’s the other $1 million a year, apparently in perpetuity:

“The city also will spend more than $1 million a year on the new office dedicated to amassing federal transit funding.”

One million dollars a year for an office to ask for money? How many grant-writers could the city possibly hire? Or does this cost include hiring a lobbying firm in Washington? And didn’t the city land the first streetcar funding grant without such an office?

There’s a place in metro Atlanta for public transit, and in the state budget for helping to fund it. But the streetcar still looks like the kind of project that transit critics will cite for years to come as evidence against expansions of any kind.

Reader Comments 0

50 comments
Rosendo Suggs
Rosendo Suggs

It needs to be a more open and older version of a train. Alas San Francisco. What a waist

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

If you think ridership is bad now, just wait until the first armed robbery / murder occurs on it. 

Here's an idea, go to Google maps and view the route in Streetview.  Is there ANYTHING along that route that would entice a sane thinking person to get off and walk around?

So, what you have are the locals who are riding the streetcar because it saves a few buck on their MARTA bus pass, a few Ga State students who decide to go to the Tabernacle, and a couple of idiot tourists who want to see what the taxpayers spend millions of dollars for at the King Center.

Sam_Hill
Sam_Hill

It is ironic that conservatives criticize transit options - but are silent when it comes to spending $90+ million to turn the HOV lane on I 85 into a toll lane. Sonny Perdue's only major transportation project in metro Atlanta doesn't even collect enough in tolls to pay for the costs of collecting the tolls.


Oh, the irony.

Starlyte
Starlyte

They know this choo-choo train to nowhere was nothing but a federal money grab and a sweetheart deal for Reed developers, friends, and family.  The big question is who REALLY benefits (or, is benefiting) from the Streetcar.

stogiefogey
stogiefogey

Hopefully these won't turn into Pullman cars for the homeless like the MARTA trains.

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

"But the streetcar still looks like the kind of project that transit critics will cite for years to come as evidence against expansions of any kind."


Because it is.


Not so much that expansion is not needed, but the complete lack of trust in those making the decisions.


The streetcar will serve as an example along with that brilliant idea to include The Beltway with TSPLOST.

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

Wouldn't it be healthier if the people just walked?

TicTacs
TicTacs

If you folks are so smart why don't you move if you hate everything about Atlanta ?

JohnBuck2
JohnBuck2

This is what happens when you put it where you want it to go instead of where it should go. 

TaxiSmith
TaxiSmith

I wish the cars were more like those in Europe (smaller, more human scaled) but I fully support light rail. It is an efficient way to move urban traffic. The costs associated are an investment in quality of life. That's as big a payoff as making money, surely.

bu22
bu22

@TaxiSmith 

Street cars are nothing but ultra expensive, inflexible buses.  They move no faster, serve people worse because they can only go along the rail and cost vastly more to build.


They are the most ridiculous transit trend now.  This one wouldn't have been built without the Obama administration adding back "economic development" (meaning someone's pockets get lined) as a criteria and the TIGER grants that weren't based on merit.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@TaxiSmith

Making money?  Tax payers will be overjoyed if it just pays its own way.  

(That would distinguish it from MARTA, where riders only pay 20% of their fair share)

BurroughstonBroch
BurroughstonBroch

The reality of the Blue Elephant is becoming apparent, despite Hizzoner's ill-tempered efforts to quash criticism:

Initial cost was 67% over budget,

Completion was late by 18 months,

Operating cost has increased 50%, and

Ridership is lower than predicted (despite no fare being charged).


Yet Hizzoner wants to expand the Blue Elephant to vindicate his "vision". Supporters loudly anticipate convention-goers will ride the Blue Elephant to the King Center instead of going to strip clubs, restaurants, and bars.


Expect more bad news from the Blue Elephant in 2015.

EdUktr
EdUktr

Scientists will one day find that liberals do indeed lack the gene allowing other humans to admit failure. 

Think how many family residences along that trolley track would have fathers in them—if only Democrats could bring themselves to acknowledge the devastating and lasting effects of welfare dependency.

Blue is the perfect color for this newest boondoggle.

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

Call up Dexter King and let him put some pictures of his Daddy on the Streetcar, then that sucker is bound to make money ( with Dexter giving a 10% kickback to City Hall )  problem solved

JohnBuck2
JohnBuck2

@Infraredguy The royalties to use his likeness we'd have to pay the King family would double the cost of the project.


AyeAyeSir
AyeAyeSir

Ah .................... I see "the liberal law of unintended consequences" probably applies here.

crackbaby
crackbaby

The street car in its current incarnation fails to connect "where people are" locations to "where they want to be" locations.  Seems like that would be the first thing to look at when planning a system.

honested
honested

At least the Streetcar is functional (and one would hope the concept is expanded).


By the way, how are things going a 'Go Fish' this year?

jmh3714
jmh3714

Give it time!  It just opened.  The peak of Atlanta tourism is in the warmer months anyways so I anticipate ridership will increase despite the $1 fare.  Plus, this was never intended to be the final plan, but just the first phase in a network of streetcars connecting to the Beltline.  It's WAY too early to rush to any conclusions, but I do think the ultimate success of this streetcar system is expansion east towards the Beltline and north into Midtown and Buckhead.  Let's wait and revisit the ridership figures in January 2016.


Also, no one is going to use the streetcar for Hawks games when MARTA drops you off right at the door of Philips.  Same with NYE at Underground with Five Points station.  And I find it SO ironic that many in Cobb scream about government dollars going to fund public transportation when their commissioners just gave a blank check to the Braves to suck the county dry.  (Btw, I'm pretty conservative).

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

@jmh3714 Exactly, give it time, lets at least wait till its run up 50 million in losses before we question the wisdom of building it. Why Underground got several chances at success before the plug was pulled, the Streetcar deserves no less.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

Is it fair to plop that million a year (for an office to ask for money from the feds) to the streetcar costs?  No, But critics will do it anyway due to timing. (hopefully that office will be able to get Georgia federal dollars that it otherwise would miss out on-and more than the million a year)


Shouldn't the streetcar be rolled under the MARTA umbrella and connect to existing transit?  Yes, but that would make too much sense.  

Could it be that Atlanta decided to go it alone vs. MARTA and the State because the State restricts MARTA funds but doesn't really fund MARTA? (just a guess. . . ) 


Should ridership numbers be reliably counted for future predictions when it's been free?  No, but supporters will point to them to suggest there is a paying future ridership (when in actuality, putting a cost on something restricts some users of said item - like HOT lanes.) 


That being said, the streetcar was a dumb idea which could have had the equivalent result with dedicated buses (instead of a separate rail infrastructure) for a much cheaper price.  I feel some politician's friend(s) is raking in extra funds from this. 

TicTacs
TicTacs

b,b,b  what's the point.

straker
straker

How many homeless men and women could be helped by one million a year?


How many battered women's shelters could be built and maintained on one million a year?


I wonder if Atlanta is essentially alone in this kind of boondoggle?

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

Democrat-dominated Atlanta won't support public transportation?

I thought transit only failed because of raaaaaaaaaaaaacism.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

As is typical of government, their BeltLine is forever expanding.

schnirt

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

I see Atlanta's streetcar as nothing more than a novelty. An OVERly expensive novelty. 

"I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."---Blanche DuBois in "A Streetcar Named Desire"

styymy
styymy

#1. Its cold as hell outside

#2. No major holidays where many riders would have a day off and no events going on in the early part of the year

 #3. The bulk of corporate conventions finished up at the end of fall and winter last year. Not much going on there

 #4. New Flacons stadium will be over budget you ain't see nothing

 #5  New Braves stadium & double-decker pedestrian commuter bridge will be over budget, grab your ankles Cobb county

 #6 The billion dollars the Gold Dome says it needs for transportation will double

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@styymy #1: We've also had several days in the 50s

#2: Just NYE and Day, the Peach Bowl, MLK, Battle of the Bands, suddenly popular Hawks games ...

#3: Fair point

#4 & 5: I don't disagree

#6: Maybe not double, but it probably won't stay at $1B

Mustang100
Mustang100

DontTread, nope, that would be the Maynard Jackson 1980's expansion of Hartsfield, followed by the Bill Campbell $385M dirt deal on the new runway.

styymy
styymy

@Mustang100 Maynard Jackson paved those roads you are driving on, otherwise you'd still be slogan on dirt. Don't  you ever forget that boy. 

Lukasatl
Lukasatl

We would have been better served to have placed the streetcar in two separate locations ... running down peachtree in midtown, and a section on peachtree in buckhead (between marta, the malls, and the new streets of buckhead).

bu22
bu22

@Lukasatl @Kyle_Wingfield 

And they were almost all abandoned because buses worked better at actually moving people and at a better cost.

independentiii
independentiii

And it sounds like Reed is trying to get the ok for an expansion of this waste of tax payer money - maybe before the bad news of what a folley this trolly is - comes out?  Can't even meet projected ridership when it's free, really?  I wish I could believe an auditing of this project would be impartial and serious - probably won't even be done. 

Don't Tread
Don't Tread

@Kyle_Wingfield @independentiii We all know where the money will come from - the taxpayers.  So why would they bring attention to it?  Whatever they say otherwise is a bald-faced lie - but that's repeatedly been demonstrated as "par for the course" for Democrats and they certainly have no shame about doing it.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@Kyle_Wingfield @independentiii They boosters need to figure out how to sell the fact that it benefits illegals, then Obama will fund it. 


It doesn't even have to be a good sales job, just make the claim, as he is good at pretending he is accomplishing things. 

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

@Kyle_Wingfield  Note, Ray LaHood has retired and John Lewis is tied up over at the Edmund Pettus Bridge sorry.

LaKeisha
LaKeisha

Well, the streetcar bypasses at least FOUR major hotels downtown. It doesn't pass directly by the Aquarium, the Civil Rights Museum, or World of Coke. It only just barely touches on the east edge of Centennial Park. It goes nowhere really except down Auburn Avenue, almost directly to the door of the MLK historical site. So is this really a streetcar to help ATLANTA's tourism, or is it a personal King family train to take people directly to THEIR tourist site?
The 1st segment could easily have included the major hotels and Aquarium area by only adding about 3-4 blocks or so of track.  This is either the best under the table deal ever made, or a case of extremely poor planning that made it's way through every approval process. Either way:  In it's current incarnation, it's a very expensive insult to the Atlanta taxpayers.

Don't Tread
Don't Tread

@LaKeisha I'm voting tor "best under the table deal ever made", given the track records of the people involved.

SSINative
SSINative

Remember this was originally a Shirley Franklin- Bev Scott (MARTA CEO) deal. Tried to get Peachtree Stret alignment funded by Feds and failed. The current route was Plan B - build something, anything to keep up with other cities. Could be the start of something good, or could end up being a glorified Disney ride.