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The Atlanta Streetcar's Ongoing Battle with Media, Misconceptions

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Some have attacked the streetcar since its inception. And the hits keep coming

The Atlanta Streetcar is dead. At least that’s what major television and print outlets would have people believe.

That's all following a recent letter from the Georgia Department of Transportation that set an ultimatum for streetcar solutions for what it says are outstanding maintenance and staffing shortfalls.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the letter says a number of state audit points have not yet been addressed by the transportation program, and the state contractor threatened the shutdown of the streetcar program unless all points of the safety and staffing review are addressed in a new action plan.

Ruh-roh.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, for his part, is still standing staunchly behind the streetcar program. According to WABE, Reed tried to cast doubt on the validity of the letter’s concerns. "In my opinion the consultant for the Atlanta Streetcar, who is not a state employee – she's a private sector consultant – is using this opportunity for her personal gain," said Reed. "I actually think it’s in her interest to continue to find things that are wrong with a system that operates reasonably well."

He also said the streetcar is still a work in progress. Which it is. The line running from downtown to Old Fourth Ward is a small piece of a larger proposed system that would connect the entire city, creating a more balanced transportation infrastructure that would support a variety of transit options.

Since its inception, local media outlets have seemed, at times, opposed to the streetcar program. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Gridlock Guy wrote as much in a recent blog post. "In November of 2010 while many in Atlanta were excited about the prospect of a brand new streetcar coming to downtown, I, in this very column, thought it was a bad idea," wrote Mark Arum, who went on to argue the addition of turn lanes on Peachtree would have been a more forward-thinking transportation investment.

WXIA had its own sting piece, asking festival goers (some likely intoxicated) whether they would be using the streetcar. One reason for not using it?

"Because I live in Buckhead!"

And then came, "I live in Old Fourth Ward, right by the park and new Ponce City Market," from another concertgoer. "It doesn’t go there."

"The streetcar doesn’t go where I live" isn’t a very good argument for non-expansion. In fact, it’s the opposite. That argument paints the system into the same catch-22 MARTA rail has been struggling with for decades.

As Atlanta endures its own struggles, other streetcar programs around the country are just starting up, too. Washington DC just finished its first three months of ridership. In its first month, it hit 140,000 riders. Atlanta’s ridership looked pretty similar for opening months.

The difference? It doesn’t sound like anyone's been screaming for the DC streetcar to shut down before it even started running.