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The D.C. streetcar has carried passengers for more than two weeks, but significantly more people are still taking the X2 bus along H Street and Benning Road NE.
Since the District announced the project, some have wondered whether the streetcar—running a little more than two miles from Union Station’s parking garage to Oklahoma Avenue NE—would be partially redundant with the X2, which travels from 16th Street NW to the Minnesota Avenue Metro station. In line with this thinking, the track-based streetcar would either cannibalize X2 ridership or fail to affect it largely because the former doesn’t go downtown (the two, some worried, also might crash). Riders took close to 14,000 daily weekday trips last year, according to Metro.
The reality appears to lie somewhere between. On Thursday, the District Department of Transportation released figures showing that riders had taken upwards of 29,000 trips on the streetcar in its first 10 days of service—February 27 to March 3 (the streetcar does not run on Sundays). From Monday to Friday last week, it saw an average of 2,045 daily weekday trips. While riders took more than 8,100 trips on opening day, Saturday ridership fell last week to just over 3,300. This was still the biggest level of ridership except for day one over the 10-day period:
Reporting our Ridership: We’ve already welcomed nearly 30,000 of you aboard! pic.twitter.com/4PUJ1ESbcY
— DC Streetcar (@DCStreetcar) March 10, 2016
Streetcar ridership seems to have risen Monday through Wednesday last week over the same days the previous week. This could be due to greater awareness of the service. It also likely has to do with the fact that taking the streetcar is free to passengers: DDOT is running it under a “promotional period” until at least the end of August. The agency’s director, Leif Dormsjo, has said officials expected initial daily usage to fall between 1,500 and 2,000 trips.
But streetcar ridership continues to pale in comparison to X2 ridership. Figures provided by Metro illustrate that riders took an average 13,363 trips a day, or more than 11,000 over the streetcar’s daily weekday trips.
In other words, the X2 had almost four times the ridership that the streetcar did over the first 10 days of service on the latter (not counting Sundays, it was more like three times). Surprising? Perhaps not given the streetcar’s distance and speed limitations (it goes 12 to 15 mph on average) and Metro’s efforts in past years to boost service along the X2 route. On the other hand: How much of streetcar ridership is driven by the novelty and free factors?
The question of why people are using—or not using—the streetcar is still being answered. Ultimately, it may boil down to “because it’s there”: a simplified way of saying that the streetcar provides another transportation option to riders going crosstown, as Mayor Muriel Bowser and District officials have promoted the project’s purpose.
That would be quotidian but laudable. Let’s see if the streetcar can keep growing its own ridership numbers first.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery