DC Spent A Ton Building Street Cars Nobody Desires. Now They May Scrap Them

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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Washington, D.C., officials are already considering scrapping the city’s high-priced stable of street cars after only two years of service.

City officials are already having problems getting spare parts to complete minor repairs on the new cars. One manufacturer is out of business, and the other is overseas, so the problems will likely fester even if the cars are replaced.

“Long term parts availability will likely require reverse engineering parts,” District Department of Transportation (DDOT) officials wrote to the council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment. DDOT is considering acquiring vehicles that “considers the feasibility of disposal of the current fleet.”

The fleet is only two years old, so replacing the cars at this point would be a massive waste of taxpayer dollars for a streetcar that was expected to last 31 years, according to Federal Transit Administration guidelines. The original fleet expense made the program a tough sell.

D.C. spent more than $200 million in taxpayer money on a line that runs from behind the city’s central transportation hub, Union Station, to a point about halfway along Benning Road in Northeast D.C., where it connects with Oklahoma Avenue. The total cost associated with the project works out to more than $80 million per mile.

Along with replacing the cars, which could cost at least $25 million over the course of the next three years, officials are also seriously considering extending the streetcar deeper into the heart of the city. The extension is projected to cost more than $400 million once additional streetcars and infrastructural improvements are factored in.


There is no cost to ride the streetcar, which is almost certainly compounding cost problems. The cars averaged 3,061 riders each weekday and 2,177 each weekend day in January, according to automatic passenger counters installed on the streetcars. Free ridership is not helping the cars become financially viable for a cash-strapped city.

Ridership has increased, however, reviews of the program have not been glowing. Local business and residents told The Washington Times in 2016 that the streetcar has been involved in several accidents and is frequently responsible for causing traffic jams. They also said it is usually faster to simply walk, use Uber, or take a bus where they want to go along the route.

Uber has been especially rough on the program, given how flexible and agile the transportation platform is to use for anyone with a smartphone.

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