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Another bug for the First Hill Streetcar as technical issues obscure ridership count

Beset by manufacturing problems and delayed launch dates, the First Hill Streetcar continues to face technical difficulties in its fourth month of operation.

The latest complication has prevented the Seattle Department of Transportation from tracking daily ridership on the 10 stop streetcar line. According to an SDOT spokesperson, the streetcar’s automated passenger counters are collecting data, but there is no way for the department to access it — the information is not making its way to the software system set up to read it.

Seattle Streetcar Departing Broadway & Marion Street Station in Kodachrome...
For now, the department has a few other ways to measure things. In March, SDOT calculated 50,159 rides from ORCA Card taps — roughly 1,618 rides per day. But even with a complete daily count, it would be unclear how ridership was meeting expectations. It turns out, SDOT has no projections for how the streetcar should have performed that month. In fact, SDOT’s only ridership forecast or goals come from a 2010 Sound Transit study (PDF) that projected ridership would reach 3,000 to 3,500 daily passengers by 2030.

The 2.5-mile line connecting Pioneer Square, the International District, First Hill, and Capitol Hill began its service in January with free rides and little fanfare.

The Seattle Transit Blog, meanwhile, reports on progress for the City Center Connector portion of the city’s planned streetcar network while also casting a skeptical eye on the lack of visibility for the First Hill line.

To help expose the streetcar to more riders, SDOT has teamed up with neighborhood organizations to offer free rides during three Thursdays in May.

Streetcar_ad_V2Free Ride Thursdays kicks off this week with a celebration of Capitol Hill’s two Broadway stops. The Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce will be hosting an evening of interactive art and performances at the neighborhood’s stops at Denny Way and E Pine to coincide with the Capitol Hill Art Walk.

The E Pike and Broadway stop will feature live performances. Just Sage shares theatrical comedic magic under the guise of one of his most popular characters, Winston Winthrop. Streetshowkeith performs juggling, feats of dexterity, and prestitidigitation: a spectacle of crowd interaction. Poet William Curtis writes poems on a topic of your choice. Contortionist clown Vega Bonita specializes in ribbon dances, bendy balancing, and confetti kisses.

Urban Artworks will also be hosting a paint-by-numbers mural open to the public.

The mystery of the streetcar’s ridership trends don’t mean much for the day to day of the new line but it does come in start contrast to the launch of light rail on Capitol Hill. Sound Transit’s Link Light Rail is hitting record ridership numbers with help from the line’s recent expansion to Capitol Hill and the U-District. Average weekday ridership was nearing 60,000 daily riders in the weeks following the March opening of the two-stop, 3.1 mile line. Along the way, Sound Transit officials boosted service during peak hours.

As for the streetcar, the SDOT spokesperson tells CHS the department is actively working to address the issue with the light sensor counter system.

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7 thoughts on “Another bug for the First Hill Streetcar as technical issues obscure ridership count

    • There have been several times that I and many others have been waiting for the streetcar at Jackson/5th, we can see the streetcar sitting at the Pioneer Square stop, One Bus Away tells me what time it’s supposed to arrive and…….15 minutes go by and I say screw it and take the light rail, which is less convenient in terms of my final destination but will still get me there much faster.

      So yeah: I’d *like* to ride the pokey lil streetcar careen around first hill, but it doesn’t seem to run on schedule.

  1. This is by design. They will never be held accountable, just get used to subsidizing very expensive trips with your taxes.

    • Maybe “by design” means, “give the same old complainers something to bitch and moan about for 40 years, as they seemingly advocate ripping the whole thing up and throwing it away” ? Must be SOME reason they’re still complaining? Or maybe “I told you, I told you, I told you….” is more satisfying for some people than others.

  2. I’m often near Broadway/Columbia midday and the streetcar always looks well-used. Same for taking it now and then at various hours, It’s not crushloaded or anything like that, but it’s respectable. I sometimes take the streetcar from the ID to Denny because it’s easier to put my bike on it than on Link, which requires an elevator ride. There’s also usually more room on the streetcar for bikes than there is on Link. So its less of a hassle on balance. Since in those cases I’m using it as elevator, I don’t really mind if the streetcar takes a little longer.