Hearne: A Tale of Two Cities — KC’s Inflated Streetcar Ridership Numbers

screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-2-26-49-amIn a world of made-up news stories and overblown media hype, the unsubstantiated success of the Kansas City streetcar line looms large…

Check out a recent front page headline in the local newspaper of record:

“Transit line needs more cars; KC’s streetcars are so so crowded that the authority is starting the process to buy two more vehicles”

Now let’s move beyond fantasy and exaggeration towards reality.

Streetcar supporters claim the River Market to Union Station route has drawn an average of 6,600 daily riders with Saturday ridership “often exceeding” 10,000.

Hold it right there…

“That’s beyond ridiculous,” says a local public transportation expert. “There’s absolutely no way they could be moving that many passengers. To anybody who works in the industry, those numbers are blatant lies.”

Former KC Strip trolly system main man Bill Nigro declined to address the believability of four 150-capacity streetcars moving that many riders in a low traffic part of town, but did offer some insight from his years of running trollies between downtown, Westport, the Plaza and Waldo.

“At our best, we did 2,000 people on a New Year’s Eve with 11 busses and that was a cluster-fuck,” Nigro says. “And unlike the streetcars we did it with tickets so we could get an accurate count. On a normal Saturday night we might do anywhere from 300 to 500 people and our busses stayed pretty full. To say they did over 13,000 people one day with only four streetcars is totally beyond the realm of possibility.”

Let’s take a look at my alma mater the University of Arizona in Tucson. 

The Tucson Department of Transportation claims its new Sun Link streetcar line averaged more than 4,000 riders in its first year of operation.

And while even that may be a stretch, it’s 40 percent less than the number the vested interests in Kansas City have been floating. On top of which, Tucson’s streetcar route has a demonstrable geographic and demographic advantage over KC’s.

screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-2-21-03-amCase in point, Downtown KC is home to only 20,000 or so residents – many of whom aren’t even close to its pickup and drop points.

Whereas Arizona’s Sun Link runs from the 40,000 student strong University of Arizona, a short distance to 4th Avenue – Tucson’s tres hip, dining and shopping equivalent of Westport and 39th Street combined – and then on to the town’s trendy, thriving downtown.

Fun facts:

**** It only takes 5 percent of the U of A’s  hard-partying student body making round trip shopping, dining and/or clubbing runs to reach Sun Link’s claimed ridership.

**** Where KC has only four – with maybe only three in play at any given time – Tucson’s Sun Link has eight streetcars of the same size, with as many as six in service.

**** And given its far superior route, Tucson’s streetcarshave been able to pay their own way from the get go with one way fares of $1.50 per rider and all-day passes available for $3.50. The KC streetcars are free.

So yes, 4,000 riders is a believable number.

The Sun Link run is basically the equivalent of KC streetcar riders being able to go from the River Market to Power & Light, Westport, 39th Street, the Plaza and UMKC in 15 to 20 minutes. And in a resort style climate where the weather is all but the hottest months of the summer.

“If you did your homework and went up and down the streetcar route here and asked the businesses if they’ve seen an average of 6,600 people go by in the streetcars everyday, you’d get a far different answer,” says a source. “With the number of streetcars operating in Kansas City today that’s physically impossible. And they haven’t even been through a winter yet. We’ll see how many people will wait outside in the cold then. They’ll definitely see a drop in the winter.”

The betting money on KC’s actual ridership numbers?

“Maybe 1,000 people,” says a source. “A thousand people is a lot to handle with just four streetcars – you’d be surprised.”

Good thing, because it’s gonna cost another $227 million to add 3.75 more miles to take it to Brookside and UMKC.

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32 Responses to Hearne: A Tale of Two Cities — KC’s Inflated Streetcar Ridership Numbers

  1. the dude says:

    C’mon Hearne, don’t you wanna ride on the monorail of lies to rainbow fairy land where tax dollars grow on trees and council members get the vacation houses of their dreams?

  2. paulwilsonkc says:

    I can tell you this, I’m downtown multiple times a week and there is always ample riders any time I pass one of them.
    I was downtown Saturday morning for an event, saw the street car 4 times, each time it was SRO! I don’t know how many events were going in Saturday, but it looked like a lot of families, certainly not city bus trolls…
    As for the reported counts, I’m guessing you’re right. They are intentionally off to inflate the value of the next 5 cars and the next 5 miles of track!

  3. the dude says:

    I heard Lyle Lanley was a new hire to shill for the streetcar. All aboard! Choo! Choo!

  4. Jess says:

    Well, you honestly do not think they are going to come out and say “Well, we spent a ton of money and really nobody is riding this thing” “Maybe Clay Chastain is full of crap?”

  5. Phaedrus says:

    If 4 streetcars can carry 10,000 people on a typical Saturday, then how many streetcars are needed to carry the 800,000 people at the Royals’ victory parade?

    Bonus question: How many streetcars will be needed to handle the demand from the 200,000 (?) people at the Plaza lighting ceremony?

  6. I ride the darn thing all the time and it is really packed. I am actually texting you from a crowded and uncomfortable area, standing in the rear (MICROAGGRESSION!!!) with Brian Williams. It is packed!! I see a lot of famous people on here too!! The other day, after we dodged some sniper fire, I saw Hillary Clinton on here with Anthony Weiner. They were both on their phones, so I didn’t bother them.

    It’s packed I tell ya!

  7. chuck says:

    I, for one, can’t believe the Kansas City Star would lie to us.

  8. Thats a Fact Jack says:

    TKC had this story months ago Hearne. How about something original?

  9. Kyle R says:

    While these high numbers would certainly benefit the expansion of the system, the streetcar management/supporters are smart enough to know that fudging the numbers and getting caught would be the death of it all. I have a hard time believing they’re dumb enough to do that.

    • Sly James says:

      So…, I am gonna give ya a call on some really great opportunities relating to Time Shares in Ferguson Missouri.

    • Thats a Fact Jack says:

      That’s just the issue Kyle, nobody has done a real audit of riders and the times they are riding to prove how bad the totals are.

      Yes, they are dumb enough to make those statements because they know this is Kansas City where people just bitch and never really do anything to prove if anything is fact or not. Myself, I have no dog in this fight, it is not affecting my taxes, so I don’t give a crap. Let those like chuck and a few other readers on here ante up the tax money to support the damn thing. The residents of Kansas City must like this kind of misrepresentation by taxation, they keep voting into office the kind of people who love to waste those tax dollars .

    • the dude says:

      I think they are that stupid.

  10. Rainbow Man says:

    I have been on the car 6-7 times and it has always been crowded.

  11. Well, you know those local public transportation experts. They’ll say just about anything to get their opinions in print.

  12. miket says:

    dunno… maybe a slow morning or something but I was at KCP&L right by the front windows on Main and watched the streetcars come and go – there’s a stop right in front the windows – and maybe three or four people per car for the 3+ hours I was there. now, admittedly, I couldn’t watch 100% of the time, so maybe a full trainload went by now and then, but it was a weekday, 9 to about noon. plenty of room on the cars. I’m neither for or against… just an observation…

  13. CG says:

    Remember 800,000 downtown for Royals World Series Victory parade…maybe more!!!!! Uh huh.

    • CG says:

      P.S. Nigro is right I saw his busline in Westport a big night was 1000 people and it was four large buses…so their number is not possible.

  14. Jack Springer says:

    … and from what I understand it’s currently free. What happens when they start charging?

  15. Harry Balczak says:

    Why are you trying to discredit success? Afraid downtown will get popular and pull people away from your precious suburbs?

  16. hapsburgian chin pubes says:

    This can be easily solved. Just take a photograph of the street car in motion as it passes by. Every time it comes by take a photograph. At the end of the day count the number of riders using estimation- a half full streetcar is 75 people and just go from there.

    Is it that important to you to set up a tripod or pay someone to do it for you? Until then you are talking out of your ass.

  17. CFPCowboy says:

    If your answer is ridiculous, one of the precepts of your logic is wrong. If 490,000 people have ridden the trolley in Kansas City, that means every citizen of Kansas City has ridden it, based on the population posted on the “entering Kansas City”sign, right? Hardly! We are conditioned to accept data and numbers as facts, despite other data to the contrary. It is a great economy because the unemployment rate is only 4.9%, despite the labor participation rate, the predominance of part time jobs, and lack of knowledge as to the collection of data, correction determination, and reporting, all this, buried into a scrap of knowledge to be followed by the word, “because” to be followed by an opinion. This is Goebbels at his finest.
    What do “streetcaridians” want? They want more money for a couple more miles of track, more street cars to take us north and south (street cars, unlike busses have a defined route), but the bad thing is they want it from me, via the US Department of Transportation Department and “MODON’T”, two departments that spend money on the politics of the day, instead of where it is needed, (Missouri highways). MODON’T with the declaration of I-49, where US 71 used to be, an Interstate that is intrastate, spent over one million dollars on Missouri’s interstates putting up 2/10 mile markers, as if accident reporting couldn’t locate a cell phone reporting an accident within a hundred yards. Meanwhile, they want to run the River Runner at 100 mph across Missouri despite at grade crossings, and with their budget shortfall, want to abandon maintenance on Missouri Highway 7 north of Harrisonville, in favor of maintaining Missouri 58. With three traffic deaths in one year, on the highway and three on the railroad tracks, the logic escapes me. I do not know whether it is age or experience that brings idiocy so clearly into view.
    So what is it with “streetcaridians” that they want someone else to pay for their joy rides. There is still a movement to bring high speed rail to Kansas City, servicing the new Honeywell plant using Kansas City Southern lines, and opening up a southeast- northwest corridor over the old Rock Island tracks, a line that runs within 500 yards of the Kansas City Stadiums and 500 yards of the airport with only two curves in it. The problem is that the lines to the southeast of Kansas City do not run in population centers, and the question posed to Mike Sanders, when he claimed it would make Kansas City like Dubai, was how do I get from Union Station to 104th and Wornall to work. Aha, the trolley.

  18. CFPCowboy says:

    KC Streetcar reminds me more of the Detroit elevated railway which ran in a circle in an abandoned town. The only good stop was Greek Town. The problem was that the El, as it was called was damaged when a demolition crew brought down a 25 story abandoned building, damaging one of the supports. The El in Detroit stood idle for 9 years, until Detroit could find the money to repair it.

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