Streetcar case study: Kansas City

U.S. cities jump on bandwagon trend
Posted at 11:55 AM, May 10, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-11 06:16:35-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KMTV)  - While streetcar is a hot button issue in the Omaha mayoral race, major cities like Seattle and Atlanta have one.


But mid-size cities like Kansas City are also getting in on the action.


Look around and you’ll see a city on the move.


Literally. At least, that’s what city officials will say.


“The streetcar has been a pretty wild success in Kansas City,” says Chris Hernandez, a spokesperson for the city.


A 2.2 mile line runs along Main Street in the middle of a happening downtown area.


The fare - free.


About a year old, KC’s streetcar is getting attention for two reasons: transit and economic development, according to supporters, and that's what the rail line is all about.


With May 6 marking the one-year milestone, Kansas City Streetcar Authority says it's close to hitting the two million passenger benchmark, while also bringing in about $1.8 billion in development money along the route.


So, why all the development money?


"If you have a bus stop, people think, 'That could move someday in the future,’” Hernandez says. “Whereas, when you have a fixed rail, developers understand [and say] 'I'm going to invest in there."


At first, the project ran into red lights.


Commonly asked questions:


How would this small stretch benefit the entire city? Who pays for the $102-plus million dollar construction bill?


In 2012, those living near the line voted to create a transportation development district.


 “They imposed a property assessment for those properties in that district and a one percent sales tax on there,” Donna Mandelbaum, a spokesperson for Kansas City Streetcar.


KC Streetcar Authority says the assessment and tax fund the $2 million dollar budget for daily operations and maintenance.


But more uphill battles came to the forefront.



"I didn't get it from the beginning,” says Keith Novorr, owner of Michael’s Clothing located along the line.







The current owner of the 100-year-old family business believes the vote worked in favor for the residents in the TDD. 


Results from the Kansas City Election Board show 460 people voted with 69 percent of residents approving the geographical location.



 “I had no say,” Novorr says. “Yet, I'm being taxed twice.”


I almost was going to buy a bunch of tea and then throw it in the office of the mayor, he says.


Admittedly, he says - yes, he's benefiting from the rail. No, he's still not happy with the vote.


Outside the "Show Me State,” the discussion on mass transit is starting to happen in mid-size cities, says Joe Reardon, president and CEO Greater Kansas City Chamber Of Commerce.


Streetcars are running in Salt Lake City and Cincinnati and similar projects are underway in Oklahoma City and Los Angeles.


"That just building more highways will not be the total solution to effectively moving people within a region,” Reardon says.


Sooner or later, he says, cities will have to address transit whether it involves streetcars, light rail, busses, bikeways and ridesharing.


According to the American Public Transportation Association, nearly 70 percent of millennial are multimodal.


After crunching the statistics and dollar figures, movers and shakers in Kansas City say investing in transit just makes sense.


 * EDITOR'S NOTE: Since this story aired, a spokesperson for Kansas City says the streetcar has already hit  two million rides as well as two billion dollars in economic development.