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The Hop celebrates is first year of streetcar service in Milwaukee with strong ridership numbers

Milwaukee leaders and members of the community celebrated The Hop’s first year of successful service at a anniversary event on November 1, with a special announcement of a new sponsor to continue free ridership.

Low temperatures and several inches of snow that fell on Halloween Day caused the original party plans to move indoors, from Cathedral Square Park to the historic rotunda of City Hall. Several hundred guests were treated to free birthday cake and treats courtesy of local vendors.

Milwaukee’s $128 million streetcar service officially began operation on November 2, 2018, with 5 vehicles and 18 stops from Ogden Avenue by the Lakefront to Saint Paul Avenue by the Intermodal Station.

“We projected 1,800 rides per day, and around 600,000 rides for the year. The numbers are in, and I’m thrilled to report that our ridership for year one is 802,541. That’s 2,205 rides per day,” announced Mayor Tom Barrett. “We shattered our projections for the project.”

Mayor Barrett said that The Hop was on time 93% of the time, and would have had a better performance except Milwaukee motorists still required a learning curb about things like not parking on the tracks. The Mayor also talked about how big of an impact the streetcar made on attendance with this year’s Bastille Days. Ridership to the event set a one day record on July 15 with 8,968. In its 39th year, the French festival’s footprint at Cathedral Square Park was altered last year because of the streetcar route.

Construction of the lakefront line has been held up due to delays with the The Couture
skyscraper, which was intended to be the last station of the eastern extension. That building project has yet to break ground as its developers seek further funding. Another expansion from the Intermodal Station to the Fiserv Forum, estimated for completion in time for the 2020 DNC, also ran into a quagmire of politics as the Milwaukee Common Council pushed for a more extensive expansion into Bronzeville to the North and Walker’s Point to the south.

“Expansion was assumed in this debate, and in this political process from the beginning. It’s frustrating that the expansion has now kind of hit a wall involving a variety of issues that should have been dealt with ahead of time,” said Alderman Robert Bauman. “If that had been the case, we would be well underway with the construction today.”

A surprise announcement came with an investment from the business-only fiber network, Everstream. The Cleveland-based fiber network provider will provide free fares to all streetcar riders through the end of the year, while also collaborating with The Hop on a festive, holiday-themed streetcar to serve as another destination in the heart of the city this holiday season.

The partnership with The Hop, presented by Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, follows a Milwaukee Bucks sponsorship of a streetcar vehicle earlier this year, when the basketball team was a contender for the NBA championship title.

“Just as The Hop serves as a next-generation transit network fostering connections throughout the city, Everstream is providing the businesses of greater Milwaukee a new option for connectivity with the recent launch of our high-capacity, business-only fiber network,” said Brett Lindsey, President and CEO of Everstream. “We’re proud to partner with The Hop and work together to continue moving Milwaukee forward.”

Everstream’s sponsorship of free streetcar fares runs from November 2, when The Hop officially entered its second year of operations, and continues through December 31. The Everstream-branded and holiday-themed streetcar will debut later in November to coincide with the City’s annual tree lighting ceremony.

“Free fares are great, but they aren’t just about ridership,” added Mayor Barrett. “They make the system more inclusive and accessible. They turn The Hop into a magnet that attracts more people to the heart of the city, to work, to play, and even to invest. And that was one of the arguments we were making all along. We’re seeing development occur at a breakneck pace throughout the city, but especially in the downtown quarter near the streetcars. Right around the corner from here on Broadway. There are seven projects underway in a five block stretch, all along the streetcar route.”

The City of Milwaukee financed free streetcar rides for the first year of operations from the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino’s 10-year sponsorship agreement. Riders were originally intended to buy tickets for an estimated cost of $1, but the free option has been a key motivation in driving its adoption and regular usage. As a result, more sponsors will be required to keep the service free, so the city does not have to subsidize it.

The Hop’s 1st Year - By The Numbers:
  • Total trips: Over 45,000
  • Total miles: Over 90,000
  • Vehicles in flee: Five
  • Operators hired: 35
  • Busiest weekday time: 5:00 p.m.
  • Busiest weekend time: 2:00 p.m.
  • Busiest day of the week: Saturday
  • Busiest date: 8,968 rides on July 15 for Bastille Days
  • Busiest month: Average of 3,343 rides per day in July
  • Where most people “Hop” on: Historic Third Ward – Eastbound
  • Where most people “Hop” off: Intermodal Station
  • Slowest time: 5:00 a.m. Weekdays and weekends
  • Slowest month: Average of 1,560 rides per day in January
  • Slowest day of the week: Monday
  • Slowest date: 241 rides on January 30
  • Where fewest people hop on: Ogden at Astor – Eastbound
  • Where fewest people hop off: Jackson at Juneau – Southbound

Lee Matz and Claudio Martinez

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