Portland Streetcar: ‘Best investment city has made’

Economic development report coming after streetcar received two negative audits in the last year

An economic development report on the Portland Streetcar is expected in May. February 25, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)
A Portland Streetcar rolls through town. (KOIN 6 News)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — Previous audits of the Portland Streetcar have found its structure to be convoluted and confusing, and Tuesday KOIN 6 News took a look at where the system currently stands.

Last year, two negative audits of the streetcar were released. One called the organization and government behind the system “convoluted and confusing”. The other pointed out inaccuracies in reports of on-time performance and inflated ridership numbers.

Portland Streetcar Executive Director Dan Bower told KOIN 6 News he’s very confident that ridership numbers are now accurate.

“Actually, just before the audit was released we were installing automatic passenger trackers on our trains,” Bower said. “Our ridership is very good, our on-time performance is very good.”

In the last year, Bower said ridership has increased by 300,000 — and that means, more fares are being collected.

“The more riders we have the more cost effective it is,” Bower said.

However, the Portland Bureau of Transportation is still providing funds for a large portion of the system. Last year, TriMet paid $4.2 million of the streetcar’s $10.2 million in operating costs. The city funded $4.5 million and the streetcar itself generated only $1.3 million.

Bower said he believes the Portland Streetcar can become more cost effective.

“I can think of a few places where it might make some sense,” Bower said. “I think one of the best things we can do is look at fare mechanisms and make sure we are collecting more revenue on the fare side.”

Supporters of the streetcar said the real payoff has been economic development — it’s supposedly helped places like the Pearl District grow. While there is currently no clear way to measure economic development, KOIN 6 News learned the streetcar is working on a report about the subject that will be released in May.

“I don’t think we’ve focused very much in past reports on economic activity and city business income tax being generated,” Mayor Charlie Hales said.

The mayor called the streetcar the best investment the city has ever made.

KOIN 6 News will provide details on the economic development report when it is released.

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