Atlanta Streetcar to remain free for 2015

Save your dollar — the Atlanta Streetcar will remain free through 2015.

Mayor Kasim Reed announced the news Tuesday morning at the annual meeting of Central Atlanta Progress, the downtown booster organization that helped bring the $98 million project to the city.

Atlanta was set to charge riders a $1 fare beginning in April, three months after the streetcar opened in late December. More than 181,000 riders have hopped onto the streetcar since its opening, according a streetcar spokeswoman.

Reed said he opted for it to remain free so that Atlantans form a “habit” around the streetcar, as well as to allow time to develop a smartphone app for travelers in place of MARTA’s Breeze card.

The city is in talks with two firms about creating an app to access the rail line, he said, “as opposed to (using) the Breeze card, which is a troublesome system. It doesn’t flow well together.”

At one point, city officials expected the $1 fare to cover about a quarter of the operating costs, with the rest coming from federal grants, city taxes and contributions.

Reed said Tuesday that the anticipated revenue from fares in 2015 was about $300,000 — a fraction of its operating costs which now hover around $4.8 million, up from the $3.2 million anticipated last year.

Many have criticized the streetcar, which circulates a one-way 2.7 mile track in downtown Atlanta, as inadequate for meeting local residents’ transit needs and potentially a financial burden. City leaders, however, defend the project as a boon to economic development and tourism.

Craig Jones, chairman of the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District board, said Tuesday that since 2010, the project has attracted around $560 million in redevelopment within a five-minute walk of the streetcar. He expects another $280 million in investment to be completed by the end of this year.

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Staff writer J. Scott Trubey contributed to this report.