The long-awaited consultant report on the Center City Connector is finally out, and while sticker shock has been dominating the headlines, the case for building the streetcar extension remains strong. That may be why Mayor Jenny Durkan chose to release the initial summary of the report on a Friday afternoon before Labor Day. The report largely confirms ridership forecasts and predicts the streetcar may even turn a profit after the first initial investment is made.
The mayor tapped KPMG, one of the Big Four accounting firms, for the review, though the firm does not specialize in transportation consulting. The initial summary does shed some light on financials and ridership, although high-level recommendations are still being hashed out. The report also outlines four options that the city could consider, including proceeding with the baseline build plan, a modified demand-driven operating plan that would still involve the baseline build plan, a status quo no build plan, and a no build plan that reduces streetcar service.
KPMG estimates year-five ridership will range from 18,700 to 22,000 daily weekday passengers (based on their 5.83 million to 6.86 million annual rides). The initial numbers are slightly less vigorous than original projections by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) several years ago, which suggested 20,000 weekday passengers initially. The report projects about 16,600 to 19,500 weekday riders in year one, based on its range of 5.17 million to 6.08 million first-year trips. The longer-range projections suggest ridership demand will gradually pick up in the years ahead. 22,000 weekday riders would put streetcar ahead of even the busiest bus line in Seattle, which is the RapidRide E at 17,000 weekday riders on a 12.5-mile corridor. Unlike typical ridership estimates, however, the report uses a very narrow projection window through 2026 (most models look out twenty years).*