The Atlanta Streetcar faced what might be its biggest test at the beginning of this year when it transitioned from being a free system to having a one-dollar fare per ride. It's still early, but ridership to this point has fallen off dramatically, and it looks like the program is going to have to put in a lot of work to win over riders.
WSB-TV reported that Atlanta Streetcar ridership fell in the month of January by about 66 percent compared to January of last year. (Granted, it was the shiny new thing back then). This January's unfinalized numbers show about 21,818 riders compared to 64,448 in January of last year. Again, these numbers are still early, and ridership typically spikes in the warmer, summer months, but losing two thirds of ridership would be a staggering drop if business doesn't pick up.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, ridership for all of last year was just under 809,000. A projected two-thirds cut would mean under 270,000 riders for 2016. Without the fare, the streetcar managed to pick up that many riders in the three-month span of June to August. Granted, those free riders didn't mean anything for the program's operating budget. And, unfortunately, 270,000 riders at a buck a pop is just a drop in the bucket compared to the nearly $5 million yearly operating cost.
The news isn't all bad for the streetcar, though. According to the AJC, the program has stepped up its game since receiving some scathing criticism from the Georgia Department of Transportation. They city beefed up program staff, which was facing high turnover, and added security officers to work on the cars. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed recently wrote in a letter that the streetcar is now a safe and affordable transit option for people downtown.