Public transportation

Cincinnati Streetcar Is Exactly the Spectacular Shitshow Everyone Expected It To Be

Bomb threats, broken ticket kiosks, and contract disputes with streetcar managers have plagued Cincinnati Bell Connector's opening week.

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A week's worth of Cincinnati Enquirer streetcar stories
Elizabeth Nolan Brown

Cincinnati's long-time-coming and controversial streetcar line officially launched last Friday, and it's already been plagued by problems and bad omens. First, a car was nonoperational on opening day. Then, a bomb threat forced the line's shutdown. And this week, the streetcar manager demanded an extra $20,000 from the city if it wants more than two cars to run during Cincy's huge annual Oktoberfest festival this weekend.

That running extra cars during extra-busy periods should prove an issue is especially damning for the streetcar, which is opposed by Cincinnati's mayor (along with much of the local business community) and was panned by Ohio Gov. John Kasich. If the streetcar is ever to be profitable, or at least cover its own operating costs, it should be on one of the rare nights of the year when Cincinnati residents are actually flocking en masse downtown. But apparently even this is too much to ask.

During most times, it's unclear who exactly the streecar—which covers a scant 3.6 square-mile portion of downtown—is meant to serve. The 18-stop route now connects areas where downtown residents and employees can either easily walk or bus or have little reason to travel between, and where visitors from the suburbs (who will already have to drive in) can find ample parking. The route was initially supposed to expand uphill toward the University of Cincinnati campus, but that plan was scrapped after Kasich pulled state funding.

With the original route, Cincinnati had originally estimated a building and prep cost of $110 million. The project was to be completed in three years. Nine years later, the ultimately much smaller route wound up costing the city $148 million, of which around $45 million came in the form of grants from the federal government.

Going forward, Cincinnati will pay the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) a base rate of $4.2 million per year to manage the streetcar, which is operated and maintained by French company Transdev. Ramping up service during special events will cost extra—something city officials were surprised to learn earlier this week, when SORTA demanded an additional $20,000 to operate five cars, instead of the usual two, during Oktoberfest this weekend.

SORTA said its contract stipulated that it would run extra cars during special events as needed but that the city must also pay extra in such situations. City Council members said this had not been their understanding.

On Wednesday, City Manager Harry Black announced that a compromise had been reached that would not incur "any additional cost to taxpayers." But it still involves SORTA getting extra funds from the city to run an additional two (but not all five) cars this weekend. The city plans to give SORTA $7,000 in money that was leftover from its streetcar-opening budget. Advertising Vehicles, the company that sold ads on and in the streetcars, will make up any operating expenses not covered by the city money or this weekend's ticket revenue.

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said the city still believes that SORTA is contractually obligated to run extra cars on busy weekends, but it will work out this issue at a future time.

SORTA, a taxpayer-funded state agency whichalso runs Hamilton County and Cincinnati bus systems, is facing financial issues independent of the streetcar. The agency projects a $1.3 million budget shortfall this year, amid declines in bus ridership and fare revenue, and has begun firing staff and postponing projects in preparation.

So far, SORTA's management of the streetcar isn't inspiring much confidence in its ability to manage this public-transit option any better. Other problems faced by the streetcar in its first week include credit-card machines not working at some ticket kiosks; a fight over where to put the SORTA sticker logos on cars; and passenger-count sensors failing, leaving SORTA to merely estimate the number of opening-weekend riders.

Cincinnati officials have offered little in the way of estimated economic impact from the streetcar, which is officially called the Cincinnati Bell Connector. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, they repeatedly refused requests to talk about property values along the streetcar line, which an Enquirer analysis found had changed little since 2007.

Cincinnati's streetcar experience is looking sadly similar to streetcar boondoggles other cities—including Atlanta and Washington, D.C.—have seen recently. The Obama administration has given more than $500 million in federal money to streetcar projects over the past eight years.

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  1. The only important thing is … can you get to Kentucky on that thing?

    1. Yeah, but you have to swim the last quarter mile…

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  2. Why does Reason hate infrastructure?

    1. What if we made the road out of Mexican pot?

    2. There’s infrastructure and there’s white elephant pork.

      1. Why does the elephant need to be a racist?

        1. Most animals are racists. Racism is perfct.y natural. Which is another major strike against ‘natural’.

        2. Some king is Asia used to give white elephants to people he didn’t like. It was a crime punishable by death to kill, mistreat, or in anyway use a white elephant – oh so rare and holy white elephants – so by giving someone a white elephant they were basically forced to care for the damn elephant for the rest of their lives. A white elephant: completely useless and expensive as hell. Like some streetcar projects.

  3. The Obama administration has given more than $500 million in federal money to streetcar projects over the past eight years.

    That’s logical.

    1. That sounds pretty reasonable compared to the billions he’s given to failed green energy projects.

      1. But that’s like saying the Easter Bunny sounds reasonable compared to the Hollow Earth Theory.

        1. The eart must be hollow.

          How else can all that climate change heat get down to the bottom of the ocean without warming the shallow water above it ?

          Huh ?

          Answer that you Hollow Earth Theory Denier.

          1. *snerk*

    2. I BET YOU’D PREFER HE GAVE IT TO BUILD SWIMMING POOLS FOR THE KOCHS TO KEEP THEIR MONEY IN HUH

      1. Only if I get to be pool boy for a week.

        1. You can perhaps be Barney Frank’s “pool boy” for a week.

          1. Or even Robert Menendez’s pool boy, but I think he prefers underage Cuban pool girls.
            Are you an underage Cuban girl?

      2. Hey New York, Mayor de Blasio has plans for a Brooklyn to Queens streetcar that is going to run along the East River. He has the emphatic support from the well-respected engineering firm the New York Times. I can’t wait!

    1. He wasn’t fired?

      1. There was an online article last week where an officer was fired for not shooting an obvious “cop by suicide” armed man.

        The mapn who fired him said he put other officers like in danger.

        Worry not though, the man was shot and killed by a fellow officer as the first cop was trying to convince the man to put his unloaded gun down.

    2. His hero brethren are probably busy consoling him right now and promising that he’ll get to actually kill someone soon, and maybe in the meantime they can all go on a puppy shoot.

    3. He’s a Redskins and Gamecocks fan? That’s reason enough to want to end it all.

  4. Of course, it is *known* that no one can run mass transit without taxpayer money:

    “Google buses multiplying, but they’re not the bad guy
    […]
    “And, says Guardino, “it is certainly a cost-effective solution for taxpayers, because they are not footing the bill. The companies are doing this themselves.”
    […]
    The complaint is that this is creating a two-tiered transit system. The “haves,” who work at the high-powered companies, can ride in comfort, while the “have-nots” end up on a public bus”
    http://www.sfchronicle.com/bay…..228157.php

    Yep, we all need to ride stinky busses.

    1. It’s not fair that I have to ride the hot, cramped train to work when others can drive in luxury. I wanna car Obama thx bye

    2. while the “have-nots” end up on a public bus”

      So the answer is to drag everybody down, not lift anybody up.

      Typical.

    3. “The complaint is that this is creating a two-tiered transit system. The “haves,” who work at the high-powered companies, can ride in comfort, while the “have-nots” end up on a public bus”

      That attitude fucking pisses me off. It’s basically railing against improvements because the rich are typically the ones who get them first. If dimwits like this guy had been around in the stone age, we’d still be living in grass huts and shitting in a field.

      1. In the stone age there was no socialism to keep dimwits like him alive.

    4. The stinky public bus is less crowded now and the low-lifes still complain.

    5. I had a nice pair of shoes once. Very nice. I wore them everywhere. This one time, while wearing my $400 shoes, I noticed a man who didn’t have any shoes at all. So I wrote my Democratic Senator to raise everyone’s taxes so that man would have a pair of shoes.

      1. No fair! You have to take yours off and throw them away.

  5. The route was initially supposed to expand uphill toward the University of Cincinnati campus, but that plan was scrapped after Kasich pulled state funding.

    Republican governor cuts infrastructure spending in diverse Democratic city? There’s your scapegoat right there.

    SORTA said its contract stipulated that it would run extra cars during special events as needed but that the city must also pay extra in such situations. City Council members said this had not been their understanding.

    City Council members admit behind closed doors to having never read the contract.

  6. Can someone from Cincinnati (or someone who understands) explain in a nutshell what a Charterite candidate is, how a Democrat or Republican can be both Democrat and Charterite or both Repblican and Charterite, and why the Carterites are so keen on protecting Cincinnati’s Planning Department?

    Are Charterite Democrats and non-Charterite Democrats opposed to each other in some way?

    1. Ken, I live in Cincinnati and I’m not sure I understand it. I thought it was neither donkey nor elephant but now it all seems to have become undifferentiated big government liberal.

      Local note, mayor cranley was elected on the basis of being against the street cat, then “received new information” just weeks after being elected that changed his mind entirely.

      Like our zillion dollar football stadium, it was voted down by the citizenry then forced upon us by top men.

      1. Top Men just love them some huge construction projects, because huge construction projects produce lots and lots of photo-ops.

        Also, most Top Men secretly go home and watch Soviet ‘look at the New World we’re building’ propaganda and old Leni Riefenstahl films and stroke themselves.

        1. Top Men just love them some huge construction projects, because huge construction projects produce lots and lots of photo-ops crony corruption

          If it was no payoffs and shiny photo-ops, I doubt they’d be such fans. If it was big payoffs and no photo-ops, they’d still be big fans.

          1. That doesn’t explain their preference for showy idiocy that predictably crashes and burns (exposing the corruption) over quieter projects with almost as much opportunity for graft and less,chance of exposre.

            1. Even when the corruption is “exposed”, are there consequences? Rarely, if ever.

              No question, they like corruption and showy photo ops the best. But their real love is for corruption, I believe.

        2. I don’t judge other people’s activities, but why do we taxpayers always have to bottom?

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  8. Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA)

    Meh.

    1. I can imagine their board meetings:

      “So, like, uh, you guys think we should do…. some stuff…. with, like, … uh, ….(looks around)…. Roads?”
      (sigh from room; one throws a paper airplane, another aims his rubber-band paper-clip Ballista at his neighbor)
      “I guess”
      “Cool, cool…… so….. like,…. well, great meeting guys, so, like… uh, well, people should get back to whatever you were doing before, and we’ll, you know, ‘circle back’, or ‘touch base’ or some shit on that like…. (looks expectantly at room, which is already mostly empty)… um, later? no rush. “

      1. on the wall hangs a duotone poster depicting a plate of skyline chili and a trolley car.

  9. Wow this must be like the worst thing ever.

    1. LIke your mom?

  10. I don’t understand what the need for this was. It’s pretty easy to get around Cincinnati with the current transit system. Some liberal saw on one in Portland and decided he wanted one too but didn’t have the money to pay for it himself so he forced everyone else to pay for his indulgence. Typical.

    1. Maybe dude just wanted a lot of expensed trips to Portland? Some article I read mentioned how he went out there like 57 times since 2007 to learn from their streetcar

      1. Is the streetcar accredited?

      2. Money for nothing and your chicks for free.

    2. There’s the hole in your thinking JB, this thing doesn’t GO anywhere. It’s just there to be special. Philistine.

      1. I’ll never be a top man.

    3. I don’t understand what the need for this was.

      Why would you assume that a government would give a shit about whether an expense was needed or not?

      -jcr

    4. Cincinnati doesn’t want to disappoint the two or three European tourists they get every year.

    5. So totally and completely correct.
      The Skywalk comes to mind.

  11. This is sorta what you’d expect from any govt project.

  12. This reeks of The People Mover in Detroit.

    And when you think Detroit, think punk?.think thug?think punk-thug Coleman Young.

    1. I searched YouTube for “People Mover”

      After 100 short docos about the Detroit street car and Disney ride… i got this. Which is something.

    2. Racist. Coleman Young specifically said that corrupt white folks had been looting the city for years and now it was the corrupt black folks turn to loot. He made no bones about that fact. He was a very honest crook.

    3. And detroit is currently building….wait for it….street car tracks

      1. I admit, I CAN think of things Detroit needs less. A plague of Mimes. An outbreak of Yellow Fever.

        Not sure a nuclear bombardment isn’t more desirable, though.

  13. Cincinnati’s streetcar experience is looking sadly similar to streetcar boondoggles other cities?including Atlanta and Washington, D.C.?have seen recently. The Obama administration has given more than $500 million in federal money to streetcar projects over the past eight years.

    Boondoggles? They made $500 million off them, didn’t they? You ever made 500 big ones? Huh? Have ya? Didn’t think so.

  14. SORTA?! They named it SORTA?! That’s the most hilarious thing ever.

    1. There are already plans to expand the streetcar routes into the tri-state area through an alliance with the Kentucky-Indiana Network Development Authority (KINDA).

    2. I live in Cincinnati. Had to ride the bus once when my car was in the shop. The name fits. SKETCHY was probably already taken.

      1. What do you have against grime and public masturbation, John judgey Pittman?

  15. Tucson dropped a wad on streetcars (mostly other people’s money). I haven’t heard how their operating budget looks, but they at least laid out a non-useless route for it that connects the U of A campus to the downtown entertainment zone. And, (mostly?) coincidentally, the downtown seems to be having a pretty good revival.

    It hasn’t been the unholy shitshow I was expecting. But I don’t know how heavily subsidized it is, either.

    1. Do you live in Tucson? If so, do you like living there?

      1. Yes, and yes.

        I like mid-sized cities, and the desert climate.

        Tucson is burdened by a major university, an endless source of Total State/whiny entitlement bullshit which supports a pretty typical city/county government, and has a low-grade case of California-itis, but I like it here anyway.

        1. Kids are in college so I’ve given my wife the countdown on leaving the lefty cesspool that is Mare-in county (as George Bush Sr would say) CA. Nice weather but that’s all it has going for it, IMO.
          Might move to a city near Reno, NV but open to any place that is less crazy lefty than where I live. Should be easy!

          1. I’ve been in Tucson since ’89. The best thing about it is that is a great base to explore the rest of Baja Arizona.

            They’d love to be crazy left here, they just don’t have the money.

            1. They love to but don’t have the money? That’s better than what I’ve got.

            2. Doesn’t stop Detroit.

          2. If you don’t mind continuing your high cost of living, how about going south to Orange County? Great weather and pretty conservative. But you’d still have to put up with statewide politics.

        2. What about the border patrol?

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  17. Nothing left to cut.

  18. 1. What the fuck is it with liberals and obsolete technology?
    2. Something clever about Tennessee Williams.
    3. You know who had a friend who made the trains run on time?

  19. The only use I can see for a streetcar is to connect to an interurban line. Last one I saw operating was like that: Ardmore Blvd. out of Pittsburgh. But in this day & age it would not pay to build either of those things except to take advantage of the other, and at least until the recent boondoggles, there was no other.

  20. IIRC it’s first year subsidy was around 4 million. They tout the ridership numbers, but the fare box collection has been lower than expected. Surprise!!

    I live just off the route and all it’s accomplished for me is to make it extremely dangerous for me to ride my bicycle. I’ve had plenty of friends get their tire caught in the tracks. So, to sum it up, before the Taco Trolley, I used to ride my bicycle for short trips downtown. With the trolley in place, I now fire up my V8 5.2L Jeep to make those same trips.

    1. Stoopid threading. This was supposed to be a reply to RC Dean about the Tucson Taco Trolley.

  21. The ghost of Harambe strikes again. Good job Cincinnati.

  22. A Streetcar Named Distaste?

    1. A streetcar named disaster? That’s what they’re all named

  23. “The streetcar gives petulant libertarians something to bitch about, so there’s that. Not to mention the opportunity for sarcasm, cynicism and despair. So, streetcar for the WIN!”

    Promoted comment gives troll a chance to make an ass of himself! Asshole for the LOSS!

  24. We in Kansas City opened our streetcar earlier this year.

    1 mile long, and it only took $100 million and multiple years to make.

    Good lord, this bullshit is a bad idea.

    1. WTF? Plenty of bus service in my neighborhood and I would never consider paying a fare for just a mile. I need to be going at least 1.5 miles before I consider the bus as an option, and that usually depends on the weather and how much time I have for the day.

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  27. Street car. A 100 year old idea whose time has come.

  28. You’ve got to be f-ing kidding me with this article. IT’S THE FIRST WEEK. Show me a project of this scale, private or public, that didn’t have difficulties upon opening. Jesus f-ing Christ.

  29. Kind of reminds me of the streetcar in my town — it runs downtown, like it should, out to a little more far flung areas. Perfect for a night out drinking with buddies, right? Take the streetcar out to the suburbs then take an Uber for the short car ride home?

    Uh yeah, except the cars stop running at 11 PM; so unless you’re looking for a lame-ass night out, the streetcar ain”t happening….

  30. These streetcar projects are all boondoggles. Some out of the area company targets a city for a project, lines up some sympathetic insiders, builds a plan that won’t cost taxpayers anyting, or not much, promotes the project, lines up FedBux, milks some politicians, and railroads approval from the local government. They almost always take two to four times as long to become operational, and cost between 1.5 and 4 X projected. And few of them really are designed to SERVE the area upon which they are inflicted.
    I’ll lay some pretty high stakes at some fairly long odds that if someone really were able to investigate these boondoggles completely, some folks would be going to jail for RICO violations.

    I can think of a number of cities plagued by these idiotic systems. And I don’t get out much.

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