Streetcars were once the driving force for U.S. cities in the 1940s and 50s, and they continue to make a comeback.
The city of Tampa, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) came together in 2002 to bring back the once revered and historic streetcar to Tampa.
Today in downtown Tampa, HART unveiled the new Whiting streetcar extension located on Franklin and Whiting streets. The expanded route has been in existence since December, but today was the official grand opening.
Previously, the streetcar took riders from 20th Street in Ybor City and ended at the Dick Greco Plaza behind the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel. Now with the one-third mile extension, riders can go to the new Whiting Station located near the YMCA and Hattricks in the heart of downtown Tampa.
The $5.3 million project became possible with federal funds including the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
According to David Armijo, chief executive officer for HART, the trolley has always operated at about a 10 percent deficit and he admits it needs more resources. There are a number of options, including selling more advertising, building more ridership or even more naming rights, he said.
In a time when people are looking for more options in face of the rising price of gas, the streetcar may become a more attractive service for Tampa residents. Ridership numbers are already going up. The revenues have started to come back since we opened this extension in December. Our ridership jumped in December almost 15 percent, said Armijo. We projected 8-10 percent more ridership with this station, so were actually ahead of schedule. He said 430,000 people ride the trolley each year.