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First Hill Streetcar delayed until 2015: New plan would move more rider revenue to Seattle

For a briefing to the City Council Tuesday morning, transportation planners have unveiled a proposal to change the agreement between Seattle and Sound Transit so that City Hall will be in position to see increased revenue if the First Hill Streetcar ridership numbers are strong.

Planners also revealed that CHS’s November forecast for the start of operations of the First Hill line between Pioneer Square and Broadway is likely too ambitious.

“Construction of the Project is nearing completion,” the planners write. “Although the start date of passenger service is uncertain due to delay in delivery of the streetcars, service could begin as early as the first quarter of 2015.”

UPDATE: SDOT planner Ethan Melone told the council committee that streetcar manufacturing “setbacks” have lead to the uncertainty about when the First Hill line can start service. In February, CHS reported about fire testing issues causing problems with the manufacturing schedule. Council committee chair Tom Rasmussen acknowledged that he had been briefed on the problems in February but criticized SDOT for missing deadlines on quarterly reports on the line and the manufacturing problems. The council member asked for a more complete update on the manufacturing problems in the next quarterly report due at the end of this month.

UPDATE: Following our report on the morning briefing, SDOT issued a statement on the delay.

“The schedule for streetcar delivery and service will continue to have some uncertainty until mid-November when more is known about testing results, supply chain issues and the pace of local production,” the SDOT statement reads.

SDOT says “several” of the streetcar vehicles are “near completion” and are expected to be delivered in December with “the entire fleet expected to be ready for operation in early 2015.”

The full statement is below:

If you have visited Capitol Hill or the International District lately, you have likely seen the finished construction work for the new First Hill Streetcar line. New track, electrical lines, traffic signals and sidewalk abound thanks to the project. But one critical component is missing: the streetcar manufacturer is behind schedule in delivering the line’s streetcars.

When the First Hill Streetcar Line is operational, a fleet of six streetcars will support the line, with three to five streetcars in operation during the service day. The streetcars are being supplied by Inekon, the Czech company that built the streetcars that have operated on Seattle’s South Lake Union Line since 2007.

Three of the cars are being assembled in the Czech Republic and three are being assembled by a local labor force at Seattle’s First Hill Streetcar Operations and Maintenance Facility. However, delivery of the vehicles is behind schedule. Several vehicles are now nearing completion, with initial deliveries expected in December and the entire fleet expected to be ready for operation in early 2015.

The schedule for streetcar delivery and service will continue to have some uncertainty until mid-November when more is known about testing results, supply chain issues and the pace of local production. The streetcar vehicles are comprised of components from numerous suppliers to the global transit vehicle market and demand for streetcar parts has been exceptionally strong. As of September 2014, the brake system supplier has delivered the brakes for two of the streetcars and this supply chain issue could affect the overall schedule.

The First Hill Streetcar Line, a new urban mobility option funded through Sound Transit’s “ST2” mass transit expansion plan, will support economic growth and strengthen connections among the places where people live, work and socialize. It will be an important link in the regional transit system, and will connect the diverse and vibrant residential neighborhoods and business districts of Capitol Hill, First Hill, Yesler Terrace, Central Area, Chinatown ID and Pioneer Square. Service will operate 5 AM to 1 AM Monday through Saturday. On Sundays and holidays, service will operate 10 AM to 8 PM.

Under the proposal from the council’s transportation committee, the City of Seattle would forego a subsidy from Sound Transit in exchange for keeping revenue from First Hill Streetcar fares:Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 9.08.15 AM

The proposal is already reflected in the 2015 budget proposed by Mayor Ed Murray on Monday afternoon. In the budget plan, the Seattle Department of Transportation forecasts the First Hill Streetcar to generate $1,114,000 in farebox revenue and $200,000 for sponsorships in 2015.

The Murray proposal would spend more than $9 million to run Seattle’s two streetcar lines in 2015 up from $5.7 million in 2014:

The Seattle Streetcar consists of two lines – the South Lake Union line and the First Hill line. The City of Seattle contracts with King County Metro to operate the streetcars. Pursuant to interlocal agreements, King County contributes a set amount of the operating costs for the South Lake Union line and Sound Transit contributes a set amount for the First Hill line. The City pays the remaining costs to operate the streetcars. The City’s share of the costs is covered by the following: streetcar fares, Federal Transit Administration funds, sponsorships, leases and contributions.

Under the newly proposed plan, Sound Transit would still be on the hook for a greater subsidy to support the new First Hill line if fare revenue doesn’t meet expectations.

UPDATE: Sound Transit says our translation of the subsidy element under the new plan was incorrect. Here’s a more basic explanation provided by a spokesperson:

  • Current agreement = City gets bigger operating subsidy (reimbursement based on actual costs), ST gets all fare revenue.
  • Proposed agreement = City gets smaller operating subsidy (flat $5M per year starting in ’15 through 2023) and all fare revenue.

In South Lake Union, the city’s only other operating streetcar line missed projects and has been boosted by loans:

Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 9.11.43 AM

Sound Transit footed the bill for the $132 million First Hill route’s construction and is on the hook for beginning operation costs as part of mitigation for the authority’s decision to not build a light rail station serving the First Hill neighborhood.

3,000 riders are expected to eventually use the First Hill line every day. Fares were to be set by the Sound Transit board but if this new agreement goes forward, the city will own setting ticket prices as it does for the SLUT. The South Lake Union line’s adult fare is $2.50. Riders without ORCA cards will be able to purchase tickets at fare box machines located on station platforms.

Once the First Hill line is running, the Broadway Streetcar is being planned as a half-mile, two-stop extension north from Denny that will also include an extended Broadway bikeway. Construction of the two stops, the tracks, and the bikeway could begin in 2016 with an opening in 2017. Meanwhile, Sound Transit expects Capitol Hill Station and the U-Link light rail line between downtown, Broadway, and Montlake to begin service by early 2016.

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8 thoughts on “First Hill Streetcar delayed until 2015: New plan would move more rider revenue to Seattle

  1. Assuming the startup, testing, and training schedule remains the same as the original plan, it will be about 3 months after the cars arrive before service begins. It was never clear to me if the clock started after the first car arrives, or the last. By my calendar, if the first car arrived today, it would be no earlier than Christmas Eve before service begins. So it will be 2015 at least. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get a straight answer from SDOT?

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  3. How about Broadway Intercity Transit Cars on the Hill (BITCH)? Then the citizens here could decide if they wanted to ride either a BITCH or a SLUT.

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