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Built for Tourists, the $98 Million Atlanta Streetcar Will Be Closed in Advance of Monday's College Football Championship

The worst streetcar in America earns its title once more.

Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire 488/Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire/NewscomTodd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire 488/Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire/Newscom"There's little doubt that the Atlanta Streetcar will be a good thing for the city's tourism business," Atlanta Magazine claimed in a 2015 article about the city's newest public transit offering.

The Atlanta Streetcar was an expensive and (for the city's residents, at least) useless endeavor in moving people from place to place. The $98 million system runs in a 2.7-mile loop downtown, connecting many of the city's top tourist sites, including the Coca-Cola Museum, Centennial Olympic Park, the neighborhood where Martin Luther King, Jr., grew up, and a brand new football stadium.

While the streetcar nearly reached planners' ridership expectations in its first year of operation, when it was free to ride, those numbers cratered last year, when a $1 fare was introduced. Perhaps that's because, as Atlanta Magazine found, riding the streetcar was no faster than walking. Perhaps it's because the streetcar doesn't really help commuters or residents of the city—the types of people who typically constitute the vast majority of a mass transit system's users.

Still, even as audits and independent assessments (including one by the Reason Foundation, which publishes this blog) showed the streetcar's failures, the streetcar had one useful purpose: helping tourists get around.

"Great for tourists," City Lab concluded in its own evaluation of the streetcar. "Not always the best option if you need to get somewhere without a car."

On Monday night, Atlanta will be flooded with tourists. The city is hosting this year's College Football Playoff national championship game, which pits two regional rivals—the University of Georgia Bulldogs and the University of Alabama Crimson Tide—against each other. Blocks around Mercedes-Benz Stadium have been transformed into "Championship Campus" in advance of the game. Police expect more than 100,000 people to attend the game and surrounding festivities.

Finally, a chance for the Atlanta Streetcar to shine, right?

Nope.

"The Atlanta Streetcar will run a modified schedule to accommodate preparation activities and the 2018 College Football Championship game," the city announced Friday.

"Modified schedule," in this instance, is a bit of euphemism. The streetcar was closed between 4 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Sunday, and it will be shut down from noon until 11 p.m. (the usual closing time for the line) on Monday—effectively making the streetcar nonexistent for anyone trying to get into or out of downtown Atlanta before, during, or after the big game.

Monday's shutdown is more evidence that the Atlanta Streetcar is the worst such project in the country. Besides being mostly useless, the system has been beset by management troubles, equipment failures, and safety problems—including inaccurate reporting of safety issues and accidents. In May, the Georgia Department of Transportation threatened to shut down the streetcar unless the city's transit authority got things under control.

And even if the streetcar somehow got back to the ridership level (809,000 passengers) that it had when it was free, a $1-per-ride fare wouldn't come close to balancing out the line's $5 million annual operating cost. The city claims the streetcar has generated $1.5 billion in economic activity, but an investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that many of those claimed benefits come from building projects that were already happening before the streetcar was approved.

The city apparently is continuing the misinformation campaign. The most hilarious part of the city's press release announcing the cancellation of streetcar service on Monday is the boilerplate paragraph at the bottom, which includes the claim that "the Atlanta Streetcar is the best way to get around Downtown Atlanta."

That's doubtful on the best of days. It's certainly not true on Monday, when the streetcar won't help a single person get to the college football championship.

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  • loveconstitution1789||

    It also partially blocks one lane of Peachtree Street in Atlanta.

  • albo||

    Their motto is: "19th Century Technology for a Glorious 21st Century Future!"

  • Rhywun||

    When do we get to start making fun of 20th century technology while simultaneously continuing to use many examples of it?

  • Brian||

    I want my steamboat!

  • Radioactive||

    Sail, brother it's the answer, and no carbon footprint! Also for your consideration slave oared galleys, don't forget to tip the drummer!

  • loveconstitution1789||

    You boys know how to shovel coal?

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Go UGA. Beat Alabamastan tonight.

  • Just the Tip||

    Ugh. One more reason to be disgusted with you.

    To hell with georgia!

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    I love to hear how disgusted conservatives are with me.

    I recall the Bushpig years when I was constantly called a "traitor" for opposing the $2 trillion Iraq Invasion and Occupation.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    And then when Obama spent even more on staying in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Then Obama spending more money on Libya, Syria, Yemen, Tunisia, etc.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Quit lying.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    What?!? Those were all free?

    Your lying is free. Your bets are free. You are free to leave.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Aw Butt. You and everyone else here knows that Obama was a war president like LBJ and had the USA involved in constant war his entire term as president. He used military resources in all those countries that I mentioned (and some more countries but those missions are classified).

    Do you want me to link the figures for Obama's Administration spending or can you dream them away?

  • Curt||

    THWG!!!!

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Monday's shutdown is more evidence that the Atlanta Streetcar is the worst such project in the country.

    WE'RE #1!

  • Radioactive||

    you're #2 we're gonna kick the woopsie out of you...

  • Gilbert Martin||

    Turn him over to the Mongols.

    One of their favorite ways to execute people was to kick them to death - back in the "good old days" of the Khan.

  • DiegoF||

    Silly knee-jerk reactionaries. If reading "nonpartisan," "smart policy" public transportation policy literature (seriously, I'm a huge lifelong subway nerd) has taught me anything, it's that the streetcar is shite because there isn't enough streetcar. You know, like government healthcare!

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    So, you're an afficianado. Do you think my idea has any legs? I was thinking, we take a streetcar but attach a gasoline engine to it so it can self propel. Then it could go on any roads instead of just predefined roads.

    Does this sound any good?

  • DiegoF||

    I have always said that streetcars are nothing but buses minus the ability to steer around shit and vary their route according to changing needs. They are an artefact of a brief moment in the history of advancing technology when an ancestor of theirs was more feasible than modern buses. This is why they are the darling of bougie nostalgists, who honestly but narcissistically think the whole world (or perhaps just everyone who counts?) is a hipster. Which, I can relate to the antiquarian aesthetic hardon to some extent, but this is like asking taxpayers to subsidize my throwback jerseys, and mandating space for them in stores.

  • DiegoF||

    Addendum: if throwback jerseys somehow did not actually do a very good job of covering your torso that well.

  • Robert||

    Exactly. Streetcars stuck around long past their time because once the infrastructure was laid it'd've been a waste to get rid of. Bringing them back now would be like installing phone booths—which actually I could use since I'm a broke cheapskate who uses only a land line.

  • Ron||

    that would be awesome I even have a name for such a device you could call it a Bus.

    Sacramento is talking about creating a street car system which will only screw up traffic and roads and be of very limited value considering that people will be able to walk to their destination quicker and cheaper. the only winner on these things is the contractor and the politician who took the bribe to get it going

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Well my patent refer to it as a BUCSing Bronco, so let's stick with that right now.

  • DiegoF||

    The "BUSKing Bronco" sounds like a rejected alternate name for the Naked Cowboy.

  • Radioactive||

    legs are better than wheels on tracks...I don't think so!

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    People might choose to go somewhere other than where the city planners might want them to go, which means they won't be able to force you to go to the venues they feel are most appropriate for you. My god, you might go see a Star Wars flick instead of seeing an art exhibit that makes you realize you are a rapist or something.

  • Billy Bones||

    What? This is just the basis for the new play by "Georgia" Williams, "A Streetcar Named Disaster".

  • DiegoF||

    (Tears undershirt in front of purplehaired girl's window) Hey Madison! HEY MADISON!

  • Stormy Dragon||

    The game is as big a fraud as the streetcar. #UCFNationalChampions

  • Radioactive||

    Unlimited Fight Club...22 bare chested guys inside a steel cage for the championship of the universe...losers will be eaten after the match

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    The world needs to do more then send Bama to another Championship for me to get excited.

  • Radioactive||

    tickle you arse with a feather?

  • Robert||

    The shutdown is "as a result of street closures" in cx w the game—highlighting what's so lousy about streetcars. Who are the idiots who think streetcars are a good idea for now, as opposed to a transitional development over a century ago? It's probably the same logic as for solar roadways: the idea that combining 2 sets of characteristics will lead to the best of both, instead of the worst. Can you imagine what these people's solutions to the other problems of today would be like?

    Gun violence? Guard the public magazine, of course!

    AIDS? A course of bloodletting should work there.

    Municipal waste? Just let the pigs eat the garbage in the street.

  • Finrod||

    If you want a laugh, pull up Google Maps, put it on downtown Atlanta, and turn on showing traffic. Lots of red and brown and little red Road Closed symbols. Makes me glad I don't work in downtown any more.

  • DrZ||

    Thank heavens that Jerry Brown's California Choo Choo will not have these problems. I figure hundreds of people will ride the Choo Choo every year and wonder how anything like this could have been built.

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