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WUWM’s Chuck Quirmbach reports on innovation in southeastern Wisconsin.

Barrett Says Passenger Count Problems On The Hop Are Fixed

Chuck Quirmbach
Passengers ride The Hop in downtown Milwaukee.

A failure with counting riders on the downtown Milwaukee streetcar, known as The Hop, is being fixed. That's according to Mayor Tom Barrett. Others are concerned that such a new service as the streetcar has already experienced a significant problem.

Credit Chuck Quirmbach
One of the Hop's infrared sensors.

Operators of The Hop say infrared sensors that count people coming onto or leaving the streetcar started failing on three of the five cars in early February.

That's important because ridership on The Hop is currently free, so there's no way to tally riders based on fares collected.

The sensor failure is being described as a software glitch, and one that a subcontractor is fixing for the streetcar manufacturer -- at no cost to city taxpayers.

During a promotional event Monday encouraging families to ride The Hop this spring, Mayor Barrett said he isn't sure if the city will be able to get a look at February or early March ridership numbers. But he said he's confident going forward.

"Because they've told us they've addressed the issues that had to be addressed. So, they told us it's fixed!  We'll believe them, “ Barrett told news reporters.

Credit Chuck Quirmbach
The sensors are on the ceiling, above doorways on The Hop.

The software problem troubles at least one Milwaukee Common Council member -- Alderman Robert Bauman.

“Very disappointing. I mean, these cars are essentially brand new, and you would not want to have these kinds of malfunctions, particularly with all the scrutiny out there, “ he said.

Bauman is on a committee that's set up to potentially review the streetcar operation. But the panel hasn't met since The Hop started running in November. Milwaukee Public Works Commissioner Jeff Polenske chairs the committee.  He has not responded to WUWM’s inquiry as to whether a meeting will be held.

The Hop says the ridership number for January has been recovered. It shows 49,500 rides, a decline from November and December. The drop was somewhat expected due to cold weather in part of January.

Credit Chuck Quirmbach
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett talks to streetcar passengers on Monday.

The news comes as Mayor Barrett is hoping to expand the streetcar line north toward the Fiserv Forum, before the Democratic National Convention 16 months from now.

Barrett said the city is still looking for funding sources. "We've gone for federal funds in the past. We've been successful getting federal funds for the streetcar and the lakefront extension.  But it's taken us a couple swings at the bat, particularly for the lakefront extension. We don't know whether that's going to be timely right now," he say.

Barrett said engineering work is underway  for the possible northbound expansion of the streetcar.  


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Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August 2018. He focuses his longform stories on health, innovation, science, technology, transportation, utilities and business.
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