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Streetcars losing money, ridership levels below expectations after 1st year in El Paso

EL PASO, Texas -- Ursula Breckinriege loves riding the streetcar.

"It's just so convenient, just beautiful," she said. "Comfortable and relaxing and the drivers are friendly. They always welcome us."

She said the street car offers more than a commute.

"I just go back intro history of El Paso a little bit," she said.

Since the streetcars launched, one year ago in November of 2018, they've been giving rides to passengers through Downtown and to UTEP.

ABC-7 filed an open records request to find out how the streetcars are doing. Ridership fell below the city's initial expectation, but the Director of Sun Metro, Jay Banasiak, is calling the year a success.

"We're hoping to get half a million people a year," Banasiak said. "So this year, we finished our really first fiscal year and we had 222,000 people ride our service. I thought that was great."

State and federal grants help keep streetcars running, and they are also paid for by an El Paso sales tax.

10 months after the launch and the streetcars only reached half their ridership goal.

City data reveals revenue spiked in the streetcars first launched, but went down by almost half one month later. By February, revenue spikes again. Revenue stabilized over the next few months, but plunged by September. Sun Metro's Director could not explain why, and was not surprised by the overall loss.

"We lose money on every service that we provide," Banasiak said. "So it's true. The street car is actually no different than any route we have."

Bus routes that cost just as much as the brand new trolleys. It costs $1.50 for most adults to ride the street car, but it's a cost that many riders haven't had to pay. That's because streetcar rides were free for much of the year, which is partially thanks to sponsors, who want to encourage riders to experience Downtown differently.

"The beauty of the street car is it's going to help development Downtown," Banasiak said. "The more development there is Downtown, the more sales tax is paid. The more sales tax is paid, the more money we get."

Banasiak points to the restoration of these hotels and the move of the El Paso Independent School District headquarters along the route as signs of growth.

The next challenge is to get riders to those locations every day.

"It'd be kind of nice if, rather than its current route, it can be more spread out throughout the whole city," UTEP student Chris Salazar said.

Dedicated riders, like Breckinriege, hope others buy in and hop on.

"I wish people would take advantage of it because sometimes we have things and people don't use it and then we lose it and wish we had it," she said.

Banasiak said it should take two or three years to build the culture and get people on the streetcar for every day use.

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Madeline Ottilie

Madeline Ottilie is a reporter on Good Morning El Paso and co-anchors ABC-7 at noon.

Comments

11 Comments

  1. They knew what the results would be before they even broke ground. Why is this even a conversation? Even Courtney Nyland knew it, but it was her pet project, we’ll, before she bailed out on the city and taxpayers.

    It’s time for another little tax increase to keep this thing running.

  2. Until the duranguito fiasco is resolved, this boondoggle will not be able to increase ridership. We have a history of throwing good money after bad. No winners here. Not the riders, not the residents and definitely not the city.

  3. So they’re losing money, just like every other city that has “brought them back”?

    How much is it going to cost to keep this predicted losing venture afloat? And by cost I mean to the taxpayers, not the city.

    1. 100 million dollars plus for like a mile of track. They could’ve flown the mayor and councilors on Bransons virgin galactica and had change coming back for an ice cream party.

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