Today, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett will layout his arguments for construction of a streetcar system in the downtown area for members of the City Council. Barrett--like nearly all liberals--loves trains (so long as they aren't carrying oil from shale fields) and believes they are the panacea for the city's economic woes--bringing young urban professionals and thousands of high-paying jobs with them (cue the Simpson's "Monorail" clip).
To bolster his argument, Barrett will point to the experience of Portland, Oregon--which has become the darling of streetcar supporter--as it is held up as the perfect example of what a system can be like: high ridership, efficiency and reliability. Unfortunately, that doesn't actually appear to be the case.
The Oregonian newspaper just last week published the results of an audit (damn auditors, always ruining a great "narrative" with stupid facts and math) showing that the performances of Portland Streetcar are being greatly exaggerated. The headline writers chose to focus on the 19% inflation of ridership numbers--meaning more than one million fewer people rode the streetcars than the utility claimed. The same audit found that ridership numbers had been inflated for every year the past five years--but not to the level that was seen last year.
Buried farther in the report is that auditors also found that the 98% on-time claim by Portland Streetcar was also inflated. The system's own data showed that trains actually arrived on time (which is anything up to five minutes later than the posted time) just 82% of the time. What's more, the system doesn't even use the computerized system designed to track delays which was put in place back in 2001.
And then buried even farther in the report is a finding by the auditors that operating costs are being understated by nearly 100%. Portland Streetcar claims to operate its trains on just $160 an hour--the exact number that was demanded of it by city officials. But the numbers show that it actually costs $323 an hour to run each Streetcar--making it the most expensive form of public transit in the city--compared to $142 per hour for a bus and $188 an hour for non-electric trains.
And then even further in the report we find that the Portland Streetcars are breaking down and experiencing system failures at a much higher rate than expected. Those cars--produced by United Streetcar right there in Oregon--are the same ones that Mayor Tom Barrett wants to use in Milwaukee. Fortunately, the braking systems appear to be the only ones to meet expectations so visitors to downtown Milwaukee won't have to worry about dodging out of control Streetcars (cue up the Homer Simpson trying to stop the Monorail clip).
Perhaps the Milwaukee City Council might want to consider just chipping in an buying Mayor Barrett a model train set he can build in his basement and save the city a ton of money.