Right now, it costs a dollar to hop on the streetcar – $2 if you want an all-day pass.
Cincinnati City Councilman David Mann thinks it should be free.
Mann on Tuesday proposed eliminating fares for the Cincinnati Bell Connector. To pay for it, he suggested relaxing parking requirements on developers Downtown and in Over-the-Rhine.
In turn, those developers would essentially be required to invest in the streetcar. They would put money into a parking trust fund, and that fund would be used to offset the losses from fares.
Developers would save money, Mann said.
Streetcar riders would save money.
And, there might be more of them.
“These changes will encourage natives as well as visitors to use the Streetcar to explore downtown and OTR,” Mann wrote in a statement announcing his proposal, “and we anticipate that more riders will boost the economic activity along the Streetcar route.”
As is, the city spends roughly $125,000 a year to collect $450,000 in fares from the streetcar, Mann said, “a very inefficient” stream.
“It’s a lot of money (on the front end),” he said. “The net is not nearly what you’d like to see.”
Cincinnati’s streetcar has been plagued with problems since it first launched in September 2016. It is prone to breaking down. Sometimes, when it’s really cold, it just stops working. And the cars have had so many problems – with air compressors, heat, brakes, propulsion and power – that they likely need to be completely rebuilt, city officials have said.
And ridership numbers are well below predictions and sinking fast. In January, the streetcar had 17,220 riders – down more than 50 percent from one year earlier.
Compare that to Kansas City, where the streetcar is free. It gets an average of nearly 172,000 riders a month.
“Obviously, ridership is not what it should be,” Mann said. “You compare us with Kansas City, and there’s one big variable: Rides in Kansas City are free. I think we should do anything we can to move in that direction.”
Mann would like to implement free rides immediately, but he thinks a phase-in is more likely.
He’s not sure if he has the votes on council, but he thinks there’s a tremendous appetite to try something different.
He thinks his plan would lead to more riders, less reliance on cars and more patronage of Downtown and OTR businesses.
“Not to mention,” he said, “a stronger sense of community that I think can flow from seeing a streetcar with a heck of a lot of riders on it.”