Transit Action Network hasn’t had an opportunity to fully evaluate the streetcar recommendations from this morning’s meeting of the Steering Committee, or to read through the whole draft report, but we wanted to share some early insights. Full draft report:KansasCityStreetcarPhaseIIPlanDRAFTv4
- Independence Avenue route: terminus Benton Avenue;
- Linwood Route: terminus Prospect Avenue;
- Main Street route: terminus Volker (vicinity of UMKC).
This system would add an additional 7.6 miles to the Downtown Streetcar for a total of 9.8 miles. The Prospect MAX recommendation is 9.1 miles long.
Even with these shortened routes, the projected ridership numbers are significantly higher than estimated earlier in the preliminary report last November. With this phase of the study, we became one of the first cities in the nation to use the FTA’s new ridership model, STOPS (Simplified Trips‐on‐Project Software), and no one really knew what to expect. Increased ridership numbers improve the chances of qualifying for federal New Starts funds. Information on the different ridership scenarios is on pages 82/83 of the report. Depending on operating frequency, ridership in this system is expected to rise between 19% and 36% over the current bus ridership.
The biggest change is the recommendation to change the boundaries of the TDD and the number of property owners subject to the special property tax assessment. The new map still has to be adopted by the City Council on Thursday, so this is still under discussion. It is interesting to note that the Brookside and Waldo area, and everything south of Gregory have been removed like a big bite out of the original taxing district, yet most of the area east of the proposed streetcar line is still intact. This was already pointed out by Yael Abouhalkah of The Star when he tweeted this morning:
The special property tax assessment would only be applied to properties within 1/3 of a mile of the streetcar line instead of ½ mile.
The recommendation has shortened the routes (a decrease in cost) while shrinking the size of the TDD (a decrease in revenue). As a result, even if the Federal government provides 50% of the capital costs, the project funding is over $53 million short, as discussed on pages 114/115 of the report. As the report states: “The consultant team recognizes that a $53,000,000 funding gap in this financial model is not insignificant.”
The project team suggests several scenarios to make up the funding difference. Notice that one of the methods to make up “some” of this gap is continuing to use $2 million out of the ½ cent transportation sales tax fund, which also pays for the bus system. The current ordinance makes this amount the maximum amount allowed to divert to the streetcar, but the City Council has reminded us repeatedly and emphatically that they could change the ordinances anytime they wanted.
We are still concerned about how the streetcar will integrate with the bus system and we understand that council members, KCATA and the study team are all still investigating these operating concerns. Transit Action Network originally highlighted this issue at MARC before it was on most people’s radar, but it is extremely important to riders. There is some basic information on page 81 in the report about bus integration, but this is still in a preliminary stage. At this point, there are forced transfers in the plan: Route 24 would be eliminated west of Benton and only run east of Benton to feed the streetcar, and Main Street MAX would be eliminated north of 51st Street with a possible exception during rush hour —“Limited through bus service from the Waldo/ Brookside area may be provided to continue to provide a “one seat ride” for commuters to the downtown area.” They aren’t clear about reducing the 31st street bus but want to do more study.
Integration between the streetcar and the bus in the same corridor affects ridership projections because forced transfers reduce ridership, but more importantly it affects how riders will use the streetcar/bus system to travel in the corridor. Will riders continue to have a one-seat trip to major destinations, or will they be forced to transfer between the streetcar and the bus? The report acknowledges this:
“In some cases, streetcar service may replace all or part of existing bus routes. Where this occurs, options to minimize transfers and maintain some level of through-service should be explored. “
Overall, there is a lot to digest, and the Council has important decisions to consider when it holds a public hearing Thursday morning (9 am, City Hall) before a joint meeting of the Planning and Economic Development and Transportation and Infrastructure Committees. Although the report is 832 pages long, the most relevant content of the report is in the first 135 pages.