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Streetcars – real electric, rail streetcars – have returned to Tampa, Florida.
On Saturday, 19 October 2002, historical-replica trolleys rolled
into action on the first 2.3-mile section of Tampa's new TECO
Line Streetcar System, described as "a public investment
designed to support continued growth in downtown Tampa,
Channelside and Ybor City" – the three major areas connected
by the new service. The line thus links Tampa's downtown and
convention center to the venerable Ybor City historic district.
Six spunky bright traction-yellow Birney-
replica streetcars were switched on and
put into service. The cars are replicas of
the original old Birney Safety Cars that ran
on Tampa streets until 1946, and they're
the first air-conditioned "oldtime" streetcars
With 11 stops over the 2.3-mile line, from downtown Tampa to
Ybor City, it's a leisurely, oldtime-style trip – 22 minutes at a little
over 6 mph. But it beats walking! Streetcars are scheduled to run
seven days a week, with extended hours on the weekend. The
headway between cars is approximately fifteen minutes. First-year ridership is forecast at 350,000 boardings.
The line seems to be a big hit with
the public, as some 20,000 people turned out to celebrate the opening.
The Tampa Tribune focused on Mary K. Jones, who boarded one of the yellow streetcars on opening
day after a stroll from the Marriott Waterside Hotel to ice Palace Drive. "She's the kind of rider the TECO Line Streetcar System
wants lots of – tourists" noted the Tribune.
Jones explained that, the day before, she and a friend, on a visit from West Virginia, found downtown Tampa a bit devoid of things to do. "We walked and walked for miles and there was nothing'' Jones told the reporter. Then she saw one of the streetcars. "I just decided to get on it and try it. I don't know anywhere to go, so if I get on the trolley maybe it'll take me somewhere.''
Her destination was Ybor City. "I'm impressed'' she said, as she watched her friendly yellow trolley pull into the Morgan Street station.
In Ybor City, in Ybor City, a line of passengers waiting their turn trailed down a city block and curved around the corner near Centennial Park.
The TECO Line Streetcar System is a project that has been proposed at least since 1984, when the Tampa & Ybor City Street Railway Society, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, launched a "catalyst" effort to promote the return of streetcar service to Tampa. After years of seeming disinterest by city administrations, the tide drastically changed in 1994. A business plan was developed and approved, and construction was authorized. Tampa Historic Streetcar Inc., a non-profit corporation managing the streetcar system, has selected the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) – Tampa's regional transit agency – to operate and maintain it.
The current 2.3-mile like is considered Phase 1 of the streetcar project. Construction costs have been relatively modest $32 million, or just under $14 million per mile. The project has been funded through a partnership between the City of Tampa, the US Department of Transportation, and the Florida Department of Transportation. Sixty-two percent of the system's construction costs are being paid for with state and federal dollars prioritized by the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Hours of Operation
Along with the streetcar project, ancillary and complementary intermodal transportation facilities are also being built. These include Southern Transportation Plaza ($14.5 million) and Ybor Station ($7.3 million), on the eastern end of the line in Ybor City. Ybor Station will house a streetcar museum, park, streetcar maintenance barn, and office space and provide a multi-modal hub for streetcars, buses, taxis, parking, and pedestrian activity.
The total construction costs (100 percent) for these projects are being funded with state and federal money. Operating costs of the streetcar system, expected to total about $1.3 million annually, are being covered through a unique funding plan which includes a voluntary special assessment within downtown Tampa, Ybor City, and Channelside, income from a naming rights endowment fund, farebox revenue, and advertising.
In addition to endowing one of the station stops, the Tampa &
Ybor City Street Railway Society (T&YCSR) has a $100,000 car
barn and museum project under way in Ybor City. Here, one of
Tampa's original Birney Safety Car streetcars, now completely
restored, will be displayed. Found in late 1991, Birney No. 163
had been sitting for some 45 years on the ground in the backyard
of a small home in the Sulphur Springs area. Relegated to use as
a storage shed, it had been previously utilized as a small
apartment, complete with utilities and full living amenities
The 1923-model single-truck Birney will
run on special occasions. The T&YCSR has been given operational rights over the
system for the restored car, as well as maintenance and storage in the new
carbarn. However, the car will remain under the ownership of the Society, and
because of the historic nature of the car, it was not given to the City for daily operations. The restored Birney is currently on
display outside the carbarn at Ybor Station between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.
This initial line consists of predominantly single-track construction with six passing sidings. The system's rail lines are generally placed in a separate right-of-way out of the flow of automobile traffic. There are twelve station stops. Track construction has included the installation of the track slab, rail, and relocation of underground utilities. Surface restoration and landscaping at key locations has been included. Power distribution consists of overhead trolley wire, with trolley poles on the cars to collect power.
Each of the eight wheelchair-accessible streetcars was built by GOMACO at a cost of $600,000. Each car is almost 50 feet long and 8.5 feet wide, and weighs 46,000 pounds. Each car has a maximum speed of 30 miles per hour and can carry 88 riders.
At its height, Tampa's streetcar system was the most extensive in
Florida, utilizing over 53 miles of track with eleven major routes
covering virtually every growing neighborhood in the city. Service
was provided with a fleet of over 190 Birney Safety streetcars,
many of them the largest of this style ever built.
In Tampa as elsewhere, electric streetcars offered superior,
pollution-free public transport service. For Yetive Olson, 89, an
opening-day rider on the new TECO line, streetcars were once
something taken for granted. "It was automatic'' she recalled.
"We used to go the library. Mother didn't take you in a car. You
walked to the streetcar line and caught it.''
But streetcars fell victim to hostile public policy, particularly the public promotion of competitive travel by motor vehicles. Beginning in the 1920s, a virtual crusade against urban electric railways was compounded by the economic catastrophe of the Great Depression. Many urban railway systems, like Tampa's, were resuscitated somewhat by the conditions of World War 2 (particularly the rationing of gasoline and other motor-vehicle products); but following the war, almost all the remaining systems were destroyed in a veritable Transit Holocaust – a process contributing to a plunge in US transit ridership and fostering dependency on the automobile and decades of emerging mobility problems. 3 August 1946 saw the last full day of streetcar operation in Tampa, and the following day, buses replaced the steel-wheeled electric system.
While the Tampa metro area is considering a modern, regional light rail transit (LRT) system, the historic Birney cars of the new TECO System bring a special ambience and connection with the past, as well as a valuable and useful central-city circulation function.
The line operates 7 days a week, starting at 11:00 AM on weekdays and continuing till 10:00 PM most nights, 11:00 PM Thursdays, and 2:00 AM Friday and Saturday. A reduces schedule of Sunday goes from noon to 8:00 PM. The one-way fare is #1.25, but various discounts and multi-ride passes are available (see fare schedule below).
"it's a blast to see it done" said Michael English, president of Tampa Historic Streetcar Inc., the nonprofit group in charge of
operating the streetcar system. English pointed out that the streetcars will bring dramatic changes to Tampa by linking
downtown and Ybor. Another 5/8-mile of track eventually will extend to Whiting Street and the core of downtown.
"it's what urban design is about: connectivity" English added.
Passengers interviewed by Tampa Tribune reporter Kathy Steele
seemed universally enthusiastic about the line. Riding on opening
day, Joseph Tilney, a 68-year-old Dunedin resident who said he'd
driven streetcars in Philadelphia for 16 years, declared, "It was a
Tilney saw a need for "some fine tuning" but decided that HARTLine, the transit agency, had laid the foundation for a good system. "A lot will depend on tourists" Tilney said. But, regarding the system's managers, "I think they are on the right track."
Streetcar rider Yetive Olson and her husband, Lester, 85, said they have been streetcar supporters for years. "it's bound to work'' said Lester Olson, commenting on the $1.25 ride. "People are ready for the convenience of it."
TECO LINE STREETCAR SYSTEM
One-Way Cash Fare $1.25
Discount Cash Fare $0.60
For seniors age 65 or over, youths age 17 or younger, those on Medicare or with
disabilities and adult students registered at participating educational institutions.
1-Day Unlimited Ride Fare Card $3.00
For use on the streetcar system and HART local buses.
1-Day Discount Unlimited Ride Fare Card $1.50
For seniors age 65 or over, youths age 17 or younger, those on Medicare or with disabilities and adult students registered at participating educational institutions. For use on the streetcar system and HART local buses.
1-Day Premium Unlimited Ride Fare Card $4.50
For use on the streetcar system and HART local buses.
Note: All 1-Day Unlimited Ride Fare Cards (regular, discount and premium) may be purchased onboard streetcars. The exact fare is required for purchase; conductors do make change.
3-Day Unlimited Ride Fare Card $9.00
May be purchased at all HART-operated fare card sales outlets. Not available for purchase on buses or streetcars. Bulk purchase of 200 or more at $6.00 a card will be sold to Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors' Bureau and local hotels in the assessment district for use by visitors and event attendees on streetcars and HART local buses.
20-Ride Fare Card $25.00
May be purchased at all HART-operated fare card sales outlets. Not available for purchase on streetcars. For use on the streetcar system and HART local buses.
20-Ride Discount Card $12.00
For seniors age 65 or over, youths age 17 or younger, those on Medicare or with disabilities and adult students registered at participating educational institutions. For use on the streetcar system and HART local buses. May be purchased at all HART-operated fare card sales outlets. Not available for purchase on streetcars.
20-Ride Streetcar Assessment Member Special Rate Fare Card $15.00
For purchase and distribution to Streetcar Special Assessment Tax District employees, business owners and residents. For use on the streetcar system only. Not available for purchase on streetcars. Sold to employers and property managers for redistribution to users and to individuals with proof of employment or residency in the assessment district.
31-Day Unlimited Ride Fare Cards
May be purchased at all HART-operated fare card sales outlets. Not available for purchase on streetcars. For use on the streetcar system and HART buses as specified by card type.
Annual Streetcar Pass $100.00
May be purchased at all HART-operated fare card sales outlets. Not available for purchase on streetcars. Allows unlimited use of streetcar system for one year from date of purchase.
NOTE: EXACT CHANGE IS REQUIRED – STREETCAR CONDUCTORS DO NOT MAKE CHANGE.