By: Princess Ezeofer, Contributing Writer
WASHINGTON – Washington, D.C.’s streetcar system is officially up and running since February 27, 2016. However, its presence has left residents and business owners with mixed emotions. According to the District Department of Transportation chief Leif A. Dormsjo, the expectations of the streetcars were “to support economic activity and investment along the corridor while supporting large-scale private investment in places that have been neglected for years.”
D.C.’s streetcars have been operating from the intersection of Oklahoma Avenue and Benning Road in the east, to their Union Station stop in the west at the top of the hopscotch bridge for the past six months. The streetcars are free of charge for the time being and ridership has been ranked average in terms of riders per track according to DDOT’s streetcar ridership report. With a 2.5 mile line, those numbers are not bad for the short distance of the track when ranked against all U.S. light rail and streetcar systems by total ridership, however, are these streetcars of any real benefit to residents and local business owners?
These streetcars have been christened as the beginning of Washington, D.C.’s economic renaissance, however, residents and local business owners alike have yet to see the fruits of these statements.
“It’s kind of slow. It’s honestly nothing more than an alternative to walking,” said Elliot Cashner, who is a 7-year resident of H Street and a first time rider on the D.C. Streetcar.
Sarah Sierra, who has been riding the streetcar every day for the last six months said, “It has so many problems attached to it that it’s almost not worth the ride. It causes traffic and a lot of people get their cars towed or $300 tickets for being in the way. Sometimes it’s better to just use the bus since it’s so slow.” Sierra then said, “I only use it because it’s free and convenient. The X2 Bus is kind of a rough ride, because of all of the people it attracts.”
Though the streetcars have gotten off to a rough start with some locals, others are hopeful that with the supposed extensions to be made to the current tracks their experiences with this form of transportation will become more positive.
Catherine Anon, who is also a first time rider of the streetcar said, “It just started running Sundays so that’s good. I think it might get better when they connect all of D.C. with the streetcar, because then it will actually go to useful stops.”
Local businesses owners and managers along H Street and Benning Road, however, are less than impressed with the functionality of the streetcars and disappointed in the failed promises of increased revenue to their businesses from DDOT.
“The streetcars have not helped my business at all,” said Towanda Ellison, owner of Dazzles Hair Salon. “It’s just a way to get through H Street without walking. If the destinations were extended that might help but I don’t get too many people that ride the streetcar in here.”
Andrew Embree, manager at Bier Garten Haus, is ambivalent towards the operation of the streetcar.
“I think it was a good idea at first and it could have helped a lot but it has not brought business,” Embree said. “It only helps new buildings increase rent.” “It’s not easy to use because it’s not directly connected to the metro and it’s such a short strip of the city so it’s kind of obsolete.”
Alberto Sissi, owner of SHAWAFEL Lebanese Cuisine, compared the D.C. streetcar to the streetcars in New Orleans, Louisiana. “The streetcars have not made any impact on my business.”, said Sissi. “It would be one thing if they went and connected all over the city like in New Orleans but it doesn’t. It’s just not worth it, because of the lack of locations,” said Sissi.
“DDOT originally projected an average weekday ridership of 1500 passengers. Since the launch of the D.C. streetcar the monthly ridership has consistently exceeded our expectations and is steadily growing. Ridership topped 88,000 passengers in the month of October, a new record high and evidence the public is being attracted to the H-Street/Benning Road corridor by this new energy efficient form of public transportation,” said Terry Owens who is DDOT’s public information officer.