Portland Streetcar ridership up.

A few weeks ago Portland Streetcar was in the news when USA Today praised the system as a model for similar developments across the nation.

A Portland Streetcar passes the Portland State University College of Urban and Public Affairs on Jan. 5, 2010. Photo via flickr user thecourtyard, distributed under a Creative Commons license. Click image for photostream.

As if on cue, the latest statistics now suggest  Portland Streetcar’s ridership numbers have shown a dramatic uptick in 2010, even in the face of a flagging economy that has had a negative impact on transit passenger counts elsewhere. As Clark Williams-Derry’s Sept. 14 Sightline Daily report points out, the streetcar posted its highest-ever spring ridership this year, and total ridership in the first half of 2010 is up by 11 percent over the same period in 2008. At the same time, he notes that statistics provided by operator TriMet suggest bus ridership was down about 9 percent for mid-2010 vs. mid-2008. Streetcar numbers are here, while overall TriMet numbers can be found here.

Williams-Derry is left scratching his head over the apparent mystery of rising numbers, suggesting neither he nor Tri-Met can point to any significant changes “in or near the streetcar route that would explain the increase.”

One possibility, pointed out by a reader, is that January 2010 changes to the downtown free fare zone may have boosted rail ridership by limiting free rides to free rides to MAX light rail and Portland Streetcar, thus exempting buses.

Williams-Derry isn’t the only one who doesn’t know exactly what to make of the numbers. Over at The Portland Mercury’s Blogtown, Sarah Mirk observed on Sept. 16: “Personally, I find this mystifying. Who rides the streetcar? It comes every 20 minutes, if you’re lucky, making it effective transportation only for tourists and people who actually plan their day around the streetcar schedule. Ideas, anyone?”

If you check out Mirk’s post, be sure to read the comments from readers, which include some interesting insights.

One of my own readers meanwhile, fellow blogger Christine, offered this observation as part of a comment she contributed in response to my Sept. 4 USA Today post: ” … the Portland streetcar is nearly always full. It would be hard to claim that it’s not an asset for both residents and visitors.”

Of course, Portland Streetcar doesn’t seem to be carrying anybody at the moment, as it’s shut down from Sept. 13-26 due to work to connect the new eastside line to the existing westside line (see shuttle bus map here) as part of the $148 million Portland Streetcar Loop Project. An overview can be found here.

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One Response to Portland Streetcar ridership up.

  1. Christine says:

    As a resident, this is how I use the streetcar. Although I have a car, I generally take the bus downtown, because having a car there tends to be a hassle. But once I am downtown, I am unlikely to get on another bus. I limit my shopping and errands to the distance I feel like walking. That would normally limit me to the core downtown and the Pearl District. However, with the streetcar, I will hop on and head over to NW 23rd for lunch or shopping over there too.
    The streetcar does not offer speed, but it does enable you to get around when you have groceries or bags of books that make it more cumbersome to walk. It also makes for more convenient shopping when the weather’s bad – not that that ever happens in Portland. Anyway, I think more so than buses, the streetcar really helps to support the businesses around it.

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