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Economy hurting HART streetcar ridership

TAMPA — Supporters of downtown's streetcar thought spending $5.3 million to extend the line one-third of a mile to Whiting Street would attract riders by tying downtown to the Channel district and Ybor City.

So far, though, the results are mixed. While revenues are up, ridership is up and down.

March and June saw increases compared with the same months last year. But ridership declined in January, February, April and May.

Overall, ridership dropped 7 percent the first half of this year compared with the same period a year ago, says Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, which owns the 2.4-mile system.

HART and the board that manages the streetcar's day-to-day operations have no definite answers for the decline. They have one possible explanation, though: the weak economy.

The streetcar relies heavily on out-of-state tourists and local visitors, including weekend partiers, catching rides to the St. Pete Times Forum, Channelside, Ybor City and the convention center.

"Being in a down economy, there's only so much we can do," said David Mechanik, president of the board for Tampa Historic Streetcar Inc., which runs the streetcar in an agreement with HART and Tampa.

On the revenue side, the news was better. Revenues for January-May rose 10 percent to $304,032.

Mejia said new ticket vending machines and recent fare adjustments likely boosted sales. In November new family passes started going on sale. A family of five (one adult, four children or two adults, three children) can purchase a pass for $12.50 and ride all day.

Also contributing: advertising sales, Community Redevelopment Area taxes levied in districts where the streetcar operates and a $1 million endowment.

Mechanik said he hopes that ridership will rebound. But it will have to happen with fewer cars on the tracks, he said. Next year, the streetcar's endowment will run out. About $190,000 remains.

To cope, the streetcar board last month voted to cut operating expenses by 30 percent for next fiscal year. Cars will run every 20 minutes instead of 15 on Fridays and Saturdays, and staff will be cut to 17 positions from 24. The fiscal year starts October 1.

"It's like a vicious cycle, but there's only so much you can do," Mechanik said.

Economy hurting HART streetcar ridership 08/01/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 2, 2011 11:38am]
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