Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

Atlanta's over-budget and under-utilized streetcar (whodathunkit?)


File this under "least surprising news ever" (from ):

"Running Atlanta's new streetcar system will cost 50 percent more than the city estimated a year ago -- from a projected $3.2 million to $4.8 million, according to data provided by Atlanta officials.

"In addition, ridership on the sleek blue cars is 18 percent lower than projected. And that's during an introductory period when it's free to ride the Atlanta Streetcar."

That's a double-whammy if I ever saw one.

The ridership figure is interesting, for a couple of reasons. Obviously, it's bad news for usage to be below projections at a time when it's free to ride, and doesn't bode well for what will happen when streetcar riders must pay $1 per trip. But it's also curious because, just three weeks ago, Mayor Kasim Reed was talking up the streetcar's ridership:

And that was when only half as many people had used it.

The cost increase may also seem like the inevitable coming to pass, but the specific elements of the increase are worth looking at. From the story:

"The city decided it would run the system because it could do so more economically than either MARTA or a private contractor. But the federal government, which is paying a large part of the expense, insisted that MARTA have some role in the project, at least at first."

This sounds like your run-of-the-mill, lack of inter-agency coordination, at a cost of $625,000 over the next two years. But then there's the other $1 million a year, apparently in perpetuity:

"The city also will spend more than $1 million a year on the new office dedicated to amassing federal transit funding."

One million dollars a year for an office to ask for money? How many grant-writers could the city possibly hire? Or does this cost include hiring a lobbying firm in Washington? And didn't the city land the first streetcar funding grant without such an office?

There's a place in metro Atlanta for public transit , and in the state budget for helping to fund it. But the streetcar still looks like the kind of project that transit critics will cite for years to come as evidence against expansions of any kind.

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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.