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Loop Trolley in University City

A Loop trolley car moves west down Delmar Boulevard in University City on Jan. 3.

Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

New numbers show that, after almost eight months in business, the Loop Trolley’s ridership revenue is lagging far behind original estimates, as it operates under a limited schedule and without one of its three cars. It’s only the latest in a long string of disappointments for the seemingly cursed project.

With so much public money in this project, the public needs to know why these streetcars aren’t generating anywhere near their projected income, and what trolley officials are going to do about it.

As anyone who has followed the almost-10-year-long saga knows, the trolley project has had such rotten luck throughout its history that it’s tempting to believe some higher celestial power just doesn’t want those vintage streetcars clanging along Delmar Boulevard.

The $51 million, 2.2-mile track was plagued by funding controversy and construction delays, which in turn hurt businesses along the torn-up route. Snow pushed back its opening last November. When it finally did open, its first official run was marred by random gunfire. It has hit parked cars, and one vehicle has hit a trolley car.

And now the umpteenth shoe to drop: Half a year in, it’s making less money — far less — than originally projected. As the Post-Dispatch’s Mark Schlinkmann reports, new statistics show that since the trolley’s Nov. 16 opening, it has sold just 11,364 tickets, with farebox revenue of $22,283.

How bad is that? Trolley officials in 2017 projected annual fare revenue of more than $394,000, a monthly average of about $32,000; the actual monthly average so far is about $3,100. Far fewer people have ridden, in total, since November than were once projected to ride every month.

Trolley officials say the difference is that those earlier projections were based on a planned seven-day-a-week schedule with three cars, and they’re only running four days a week with two cars because one is still being safety-tested. They say they need that third car before they can run seven days. That doesn’t make much sense on its face: Isn’t it better to make the service available as often as possible, even with fewer than the optimum number of cars?

And speaking of that third car: It was delivered in January — almost six months ago — but it can’t be put into service until it passes all its safety testing. This isn’t NASA; what kind of safety testing takes six months? There may be simple answers to these questions, but they certainly haven’t been conveyed to the riding public, nor to the taxpayers who have largely funded this nostalgic but expensive outing.

The idea has always been for the trolley to eventually be largely self-supporting. At the moment, it isn’t headed even remotely in that direction. The public needs to know why, and what’s going to be done to change that.