The University of Cincinnati is a proposed station stop along what may one day become a four-mile streetcar system in town. As such, UC recently turned to an internationally recognized economics researcher to help analyze whether the costs and benefits of such a system had been rigorously and accurately projected.
That researcher is the university’s own George Vredeveld, director of the Economics Center for Education & Research at UC, who collaborated with Jeffrey Rexhausen, associate director of research at the center and G. Irem Yelkanci, research assistant. Other U.S. cities and even other countries frequently turn to Vredeveld and the center to help sort out labor, development, environmental, small business, transportation and other issues impacting regional economics.
“Grading” the recently completed HDR Streetcar Feasibility Study
UC and the Economics Center for Education & Research are releasing a report today. This Assessment of the Cincinnati Streetcar Study “grades” the in-depth streetcar report (the HDR Streetcar Feasibility Study) completed in 2007 on behalf of the City of Cincinnati by HDR, Inc., of Omaha. The report also includes a description of how streetcars have affected other cities.
“We applied the smell test to the HDR study,” said Vredeveld, meaning he compared the process and methodology of other studies to that of the HDR study. The UC center also compared the ridership estimates in the HDR study to actual ridership for the Memphis and Portland, Oregon, streetcar systems.
“And we found that HDR was in the ballpark,” Vredeveld stated, regarding both ridership and economic-development payoffs in the form of increased property values, business development, employment and tax revenues along and close to the streetcar line.
Looking at what critics have to say
The UC center also closely examined criticisms of mass transit, specifically from the Cato Institute as applied to Portland, Oregon. They found that most of the criticisms don’t apply to Cincinnati streetcar proposals. That’s because the focus of the Cato Institute critique of Portland were more broadly based objections to the political process and a regional transit system – not related to any dispute of ridership and development results related to streetcars.
Cincinnati is on the right track in considering a streetcar system, according to Vredeveld. The likely average net economic payoff of $315.8 million, as estimated by HDR over a 35-year period, is sound, as is HDR’s most conservative net economic payoff estimate of $186.8 million over 35 years. Even if this most conservative payoff comes to pass, “the proposed streetcar system is economically worthwhile,” said Vredeveld.
The current proposal for a Cincinnati streetcar system calls for a four-mile looped system that travels from Cincinnati's riverfront, near the stadiums and the Banks project, through downtown north into Over-the-Rhine, with stops at Music Hall and Findlay Market, and then on to UC. According to this latest report from the Economics Center for Education & Research at UC, the proposed route is a plus because systems that link major activity centers (employment, shopping and recreation) generally experience higher levels of ridership.