The Kansas City streetcar rolled out of 2018 with ridership up 2.6 percent over the previous year and looking for signals early in the new year about its planned expansions to the riverfront and UMKC.
The downtown streetcar attracted 2,114,886 rides last year compared to 2,060,327 in 2017. Overall, more than 5.5 million people have ridden the line since it opened in May 2016.
“The continued growth in ridership is what we hoped,” said Executive Director Tom Gerend. “It’s a reflection of all the activity downtown with new commercial and residential development.”
Later this month, PortKC is expected to reveal an update about how the planned extension of the streetcar line from the River Market to Berkley Riverfront Park and perhaps the Isle of Capri casino could be funded and designed.
The Streetcar Authority also is hoping to hear from Washington in February about how its application is faring for $151 million in federal funding to extend the line to the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
That timetable however, may be upset by the continuing federal government shutdown.
“The current shutdown is concerning,” Gerend said. “People at the department (Federal Transportation Agency) responsible for reviewing applications are not at work.
“We need people on the federal side of the project to move things forward.”
The $30 million extension to the riverfront plan is on a separate track from the much larger $316 million proposal to extend the line along Main Street from downtown to UMKC.
Gerend said the continuing solid performance of the existing streetcar line helps the authority make a better case for expanding.
“It works well with our projections for the future,” he said. “We know we have strong demand and people have supported it since the beginning.
“With all the new cranes going, those are great signs that downtown is a healthy place and the streetcar will be in demand for years to come.”
Two additional streetcars are expected to be delivered by late summer, increasing the fleet to six. Gerend said the new cars should reduce waiting times for riders and provide flexibility during periods of higher demand.
Last year, more than 31,000 people rode the streetcars during the Big XII Basketball Tournament. The three-day Labor Day weekend attracted 33,424 riders. The streetcar hit a record for single-day ridership on July 6 when 19,181 people were onboard.
“Things aren’t slowing,” Gerend said. “We had huge demands on weekends and our weekdays are growing too.”
Kevin Collison, a freelance contributor to KCUR 89.3, writes about downtown Kansas City for his website CityScene KC.