It’s only Nov. 1, but Cleveland-based fiber network provider Everstream appears to already be in the holiday spirit.
City leaders announced that Everstream is sponsoring The Hop for a two-month period, effective this Saturday through Dec. 31. The $90,000 sponsorship means rides on the will remain free through the holidays as well as an Everstream-branded, holiday-themed streetcar.
“We’re proud to partner with a company that shares our vision for a more connected and forward-thinking city, and we’re thrilled that our streetcar riders will benefit from their investment in Milwaukee,” Mayor Tom Barrett said in the release. “The holiday season is packed with wonderful downtown events, and thanks to Everstream, The Hop will continue to be a fun and free way to access all that our city has to offer.”
The streetcar’s new festive design will debut later this month to coincide with Milwaukee’s annual tree lighting ceremony.
The announcement comes on the same day that the city held a first birthday party for The Hop, which officially began passenger service Nov. 2 of last year.
In an interview on Thursday, Barrett said The Hop ridership “absolutely exceeded expectations.” He said when the service started up last fall, the city was expecting an average of 1,850 riders per day and 675,000 over the course of the one-year period.
Even before the end of its first year of service, the streetcar had recorded about 750,000 riders. That averages out to more than 2,200 per day.
“So, we’re really pleased with that,” said Barrett, adding he expects strong ridership numbers for the coming holiday season.
Barrett said the streetcar has also proven to be reliable and safe. He said over 93% of trips have been recorded as being on-time, and the city has recorded no major safety incidents and less than one minor incident per 10,000 miles traveled. What’s more, the Hop saw a drop-off of passenger complaints after the service first start up, to an average of three per month over the last six months.
Of course, the streetcar has its critics. Alderman Tony Zielinski, who is also running for mayor in the next election, issued a statement Friday criticizing Barrett’s championing of the streetcar as the city faces issues such as potholes, lead paint and service lines, and the proposed elimination of 60 police officer positions next year.
He also tied the streetcar to calls by Milwaukee-area community leaders for a 1% increase in the Milwaukee County sales tax. The added revenue would go toward a number thing, such as funding services and providing some property-tax relief.
“The mayor’s misplaced priorities have him celebrating a downtown streetcar while he is championing an increase in the sales tax to help the city pay for basic services,” Zielinski said. “But the move for a sales tax increase can only be approved by the state Legislature, and many of its members do not trust the mayor and see the streetcar as discretionary spending.”
Barrett said he still hopes Milwaukee Common Council members will take up a proposal his administration is backing to extend the streetcar further. This spring, he and other city leaders announced a $46.8 million spending package that would fund the construction of a line extension to the Wisconsin Center and preliminary engineering work for another three-mile expansion into the Bronzeville and Walker’s Point neighborhoods.
So far, that proposal, which would finance the construction and engineering work through city tax incremental financing, has been held up in Common Council. Some members said the extension does not go far enough in Walker’s Point, while others said they want to see a plan to address potential displacement of residents living nearby the proposed route.
Barrett said he’s hopeful aldermen will again consider the extension plan toward the end of this year, after they finish with votes related to next year’s city budget.
Earlier this week, Everstream revealed details of a $27 million expansion of fiber network in metro Milwaukee. The expansion consists of two fiber rings that encircle the western Milwaukee suburbs and touch the western part of downtown Milwaukee. The 172-mile fiber network was recently brought online, and another 388 miles will be added by the end of 2020.
“Just as The Hop serves as a next-generation transit network fostering connections throughout the city, Everstream is providing the businesses of greater Milwaukee a new option for connectivity with the recent launch of our high-capacity, business-only fiber network,” Brett Lindsey, Everstream president and chief executive officer, said in the release.