ST. LOUIS – New data reveals that the St. Louis Loop Trolley is one of the most underused streetcar systems among major U.S. cities.
Transit policy analyst Brad Thomas recently crunched data on transportation services from the Federal Transit Administration, further analyzed by the Cato Institute. A list that Thomas created on Twitter from FTA data ranked St. Louis last among cities in September 2023 in a metric classified as “riders per vehicle hour.”
This metric is calculated by two pieces of FTA data: The number of unlinked passenger trips (UPT) divided by the number of vehicle revenue hours (VRH) over any given period of time.
Last September, St. Louis had a sparse “riders per vehicle hour” ranking of 2.1. For perspective, the next closest rate among qualified U.S. cities with rail services was Galveston, Texas with a rank of 9.2 riders per vehicle hour in the year’s ninth month.
For the year, the St. Louis Loop Trolley is averaging a “riders per vehicle hour” ranking of roughly 2.4 and had its highest rating in July at 2.5.
FTA data reveals that average operating costs of the Loop Trolley were around $153 per passenger this year, 13th highest of all transit services analyzed and second-highest for rail and streetcar services.
“St. Louis’ experience should be a cautionary tale for other cities that are considering streetcars, light‐rail systems, or other rail‐based transit projects,” says the Cato Institute in a blog released earlier this week around the research. “These systems all require relatively large, fixed investments that often do not pay off when expected ridership fails to pay off.”
The Loop Trolley runs on Delmar Boulevard and DeBaliviere Avenue between the University City Library and the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park. When operating, there is no charge to ride the Loop Trolley, and no tickets or reservations are needed.
The trolley first started running in November 2018, but it had to shut down in December 2019 because of financial problems. Before last year, there were concerns that the Loop Trolley project could default on millions of dollars in federal funding that was awarded to originally help start up the trolley.