On Dec. 19, the City of Atlanta released the new mobile app for the Atlanta Streetcar, “ATL Streetcar”, in hopes of bringing in more revenue to the service. The app allows riders to pay for their ride in advance and also allows them to track the location of the Streetcar.
“I am pleased that the Atlanta Streetcar is again at the cutting edge, offering the first mobile app from a transit system in the metropolitan Atlanta region,” said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed in a press release.
According to the city’s Deputy Chief Operating Officer William Johnson, in charge of all transportation initiatives within the city, ridership is meeting the expected numbers for the Streetcar, and with the release of the new Atlanta Streetcar mobile app, he sees those numbers rising.
“Currently, ridership figures are in line with the city’s expectations,” said Johnson’s spokesperson. “We expect ridership to steadily increase over time as we deploy new technology like the mobile app.”
He also said that the Streetcar has helped lead to economic developments in the city.
“In the years since the TIGER grant award for the Streetcar was announced, more than $1.5 billion in new economic activity has occurred within a five-minute walk of the route,” he said. “In February, Post Properties broke ground on its new $96 million apartment building, the first new residential property in downtown for families and young professionals built in the past 20 years.”
But the city has also reported problems with riders not paying the fair. Deputy Chief William Johnson told WABE that “only about 53 percent of riders are actually paying for tickets.”
According to Marc Scribner, a transportation analyst working on non-profit research on Streetcars nationwide, free riding is a problem that many American cities have run into with the Streetcar system, with Cincinnati taking the same route as Atlanta in creating a mobile app in an attempt to mitigate the problem.
“Fare evasion has been a major problem for streetcar operators across North America, from Portland to Toronto to Atlanta,” said Scribner.
“Most of the attempts to mitigate this problem have focused on increasing penalties and enforcement, with limited success. Atlanta’s attempt at a technological solution is likely to see marginal improvements in fare evasion rates, but the problem is likely to persist,” he said.
Scribner made arguments against the City of Atlanta’s claims about economic development and ridership.
“The economic claims are bogus. A study funded by the Federal Transit Administration during the Obama administration and conducted by the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies found no evidence of any economic development benefits of any streetcar system in existence in the United States. One trick often used by streetcar boosters is to revise-down ridership projections over time from the early planning stage into the operating stage. Call it managing expectations or call it lying. Atlanta’s streetcar boosters continue to move the goalposts whenever new data are released.”