It wasn’t too long ago that Kansas City’s downtown was a ghost town on weekends, especially empty on Sundays.
No longer. So many people are flocking to downtown on Sundays and riding the streetcar that the system will soon expand its Sunday hours.
Ridership is also robust enough that the Kansas City Streetcar Authority is moving forward with plans to bolster the four-vehicle fleet with two more vehicles, although it will probably take two years for them to arrive.
Sundays have defied expectations and have become the second-busiest day of the week for the streetcar system, executive director Tom Gerend told the Streetcar Authority board Thursday. Yet currently, it has the least service hours, with two cars operating from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and three cars from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. It operates from 6 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday and past midnight on Friday and Saturday nights.
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“We want to adjust,” Gerend said, explaining that members of the public have asked for the streetcar to run later on Sunday nights to accommodate late concerts and other events near the route.
The authority authorized that change. Within a week, the streetcar should run from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sundays, with three vehicles operating during the peak time from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Gerend told the board that he is continuing negotiations with the city and CAF USA Inc., the streetcar vehicle manufacturer, to acquire two more vehicles.
“I feel more strongly than ever about the need for more cars,” Gerend said. Each vehicle, including parts and warranty, could cost about $5 million, and it could take two years for them to be custom-built. The downtown transportation development district that provides the tax money to operate the streetcar generates sufficient tax dollars to cover that cost, streetcar officials said.
Usually, the Streetcar Authority operates no more than three cars on the route, and has a fourth car as a spare. But during the recent Big 12 men’s basketball tournament at the Sprint Center, March 8-11, the system used all four vehicles for the tournament’s busy start. With four vehicles on the tracks, the system was able to reach each streetcar stop about every seven or eight minutes, faster than normal headway times of 10 minutes or more.
“It was good. It was a noticeable reduction in headways,” Gerend said.
The system recorded 33,500 trips for the Big 12 tournament, and 33,132 for the NCAA Midwest Tournament just a few weeks later, March 23-26.
Since it opened last May, the downtown streetcar has recorded a total of 1,787,746 rides. Ridership peaked in July 2016 at more than 233,000 trips. It dipped to a low of 89,600 during a cold January, but rebounded to 173,024 in March.
Streetcar Authority officials said they hope to hit the 2 million rides milestone in time for the system’s first birthday May 6. Streetcar Authority spokeswoman Donna Mandelbaum said plans are underway for a birthday celebration that morning and for the week after that.
Six months after Kansas City's new streetcar began rolling, businesses along the route say they are seeing new customers and increased sales.