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As of late Saturday morning, the D.C. streetcar along H Street and Benning Road NE is open to passengers.

Mayor Muriel Bowser and a handful of other District officials kicked off the day’s public ceremony with a little pomp and circumstance: The Eastern High School marching band greeted a few hundred spectators with music before Bowser, District Department of Transportation Director Leif Dormsjo, and even D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton delivered celebratory remarks to residents, their children, and their dogs.

“Thank you for your patience,” Bowser said “on behalf of” herself, three other mayors, and elected officials. “Most importantly, the streetcar offers another transportation option” within the District’s transit network.

Norton seemed a bit more incredulous: “Is it really happening?” she asked, recalling D.C.’s past streetcars.

Bowser and Dormsjo indicated that the couple-miles-long H Street–Benning Road route, which runs from the Hopscotch Bridge near the parking lot of Union Station to Oklahoma Avenue NE near the Langston Golf Course, would eventually expand across D.C. “Let’s ride!” the mayor said before boarding the streetcar.

Many residents appeared enthusiastic about passenger service on the long-delayed and high-cost project. Still, there were echoes of doubt about how much the streetcar would benefit them. City Desk rode the bulky red vehicle round-trip, starting at the Oklahoma Avenue stop—it took about 45 minutes to complete: 20 going toward Union Station and 25 in reverse—and again one-way. Some of what was overheard during the course of the day:

  • “We’ve had bus service for years!” (man commenting on an X2 passing the streetcar on H Street NE)
  • “Streetcar workers, come and join the ATU! ATU supports streetcar workers!” (local union members)
  • “Want to go ride one…later?” (mother) “Today!!!” (kid)
  • “What would be really nice is when they put the line down to Georgetown.” (man at 15th and Benning)
  • “Have you caught the streetcar yet? I just got off work.” (woman near 20th and Benning)
  • “OK, we rode it.” (man in couple who got on the streetcar at Oklahoma and got off after two stops)
  • “This is real! It’s live! It’s direct!” (man who boarded westward streetcar at 13th and H streets NE)
  • “Ben’s Chili Bowl? How long has that been there?” (woman who grew up in D.C. but moved to the ‘burbs)
  • “On a nice day I’m gonna come out here and walk, see if I’m faster [than it].” (“real, live, direct” man)
  • “Ah, it’s gonna be like this every day now.” (streetcar conductor while switching to eastward controls)
  • “It’s free for six months.” (friend of Ben’s Chili Bowl lady) “Six whole months!?” (BCB lady)
  • *waves cap* (DDOT Director Dormsjo at streetcar heading toward Oklahoma)
  • “The development is coming on down. It’s coming on down.” (BCB lady gesturing toward the east)
  • “What’s the Car Barn Training Center?” (friend of BCB lady, alluding to under-construction facility)
  • “They all should be fired! Stupid idea! Waste of money!” (cyclist passing Oklahoma stop on Benning)
  • “It’s got a nice roomy feel to it.” (woman on streetcar approaching Union Station stop)

Although service seemed consistently busy during the first hours of Saturday’s grand opening, there were a few hiccups along the way. On the second streetcar City Desk rode, at least one door appeared to be having problems opening in response to riders pressing the “open” button on it when the vehicle had stopped at 8th and H streets NE. The door—a two-panel, curb-level contraption—swung open after more than 30 seconds of repeated attempts by riders to get off. Other double-doors on this car closed automatically as people left.

Another streetcar reportedly made contact with a curb as it neared Union Station and had to be repaired:

And at least one misbehaving rider brought aboard a cup of coffee, which is prohibited. They didn’t drink it all:

If you experience other weird streetcar blips, contact citydesk@washingtoncitypaper.com.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery