A tale of 2 trolleys: St. Louis Loop Trolley struggling while KC Streetcar plans to expand

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Streetcar and Loop Trolley
Kansas City Streetcar (Left) and St. Louis Loop Trolley

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In Missouri’s two biggest cities, officials are looking to public transportation to help grow business and connect communities.

These ideas were put into motion in similar ways: both cities now have rail-guided systems that ferry people between two points with multiple stops in between.

Although the similarities between the two systems are clear, the results have been strikingly different. While Kansas City’s Streetcar has seen overwhelming success with more than double their expected ridership, St. Louis’ Loop Trolley has seen underwhelming numbers and income.

Less than a year after the Loop Trolley started, the service is reducing its hours and asking for $700,000 in order to stay open through 2020.

Meanwhile, the Kansas City Streetcar voted in mid-2018 to extend the rail line to the University of Missouri – Kansas City, less than a year after they approved the initial Main Street project. The service has also added two new streetcars, bringing the total to six in order to meet high demand.

Here’s how they are similar

Both services relied on several sources of income, both federal and local, to get the cars up and running.

The Loop Trolley used federal funds to pay for about two-thirds of the $51.5 million project, according to a report from the St. Louis Post Dispatch. The Streetcar also is looking toward federal grant money for the UMKC expansion, although voters already approved the $250 million project.

Each city also had to develop a special Transportation Development District, which consists of board member oversight and gives each entity the ability to create special taxes.

Both cities set up a one percent tax on businesses within that district, which was drawn along the line of their respective transportation services.

Kansas City also set up special tax assessments on real estate and parking lots within the district. It’s unclear if St. Louis has a similar assessment in place.

Both services are also about the same length.

The Loop Trolley is 2.2 miles long, and the Streetcar, according to its website, is 2 miles long. The Loop Trolley has 10 stops each way and the Streetcar has 8 stops each way.

Here’s how they are different

One of the biggest differences is apparent at the door. In addition to the tax generated through the TDD, the Loop Trolley costs money. The Streetcar doesn’t.

St. Louis riders can purchase a 2-hour ticket for $2, or an all-day pass for $5. Kansas City riders hop on the Streetcar for free.

It’s unclear how pricing has affected public perception of the new St. Louis transit, but ridership is lower than officials expected, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch. They planned for the trolley to be self-funded through ticket sales.

The Loop Trolley brought in a little more than 2,000 tickets in June, which is a slight increase from previous months, but still lower than projected. It’s unclear how the number of tickets translates into the number of individual daily riders.

Kansas City officials originally hoped for 2,700 riders daily, since they don’t have tickets to count. In July, they had more than 6,000 riders each day, resulting in more than 200,000 riders throughout the month.

Location is also a big difference. The Streetcar runs north and south on Main Street along one of the busiest commercial areas downtown Kansas City.

The Loop Trolley actually runs between two cities, St. Louis and University City, a suburb just west of St. Louis.

The east end stops in Forest Park, a massive recreational area on the west city of St. Louis. The west end stops at the University City Library. While the line goes along the Delmar Loop, a busy commercial area, spanning two cities has created problems.

When the trolley was first put in place, it was not allowed to cross into University City because the district had not gotten the right permit. This was eventually fixed.

Overall, the differences come down to funding.

The Loop Trolley is struggling to find enough money to keep running, while the Streetcar is already expecting expansions. These differences will only grow in contrast if the Loop Trolley goes under and has to be dismantled.

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