Rock Region METRO is offering free streetcar rides for all of 2019, starting with an early holiday gift: Fare-free rides launch Friday, Dec. 21, running throughout the end of the year and into 2019, just in time for holiday visits with family and friends! The METRO Board of Directors unanimously approved the move, which is supported by the streetcar system’s three local funding partners (the City of Little Rock, the City of North Little Rock and Pulaski County) at a special board meeting today. The fare-free year will not require additional funding from the cities or county for 2018 or 2019, due to streetcar-related 2018 budget savings.
“We are so thrilled to partner with the cities and county to capitalize on this unique attraction in our community,” said METRO Executive Director Charles D. Frazier. “Especially as the streetcar system heads into its 15th anniversary year and we explore more ways to partner with the hospitality industry that benefits from it, we are looking forward to bringing back fare-free rides, which allow visitors and locals easy access to all the sights our downtown areas have to offer. When METRO tested free streetcar rides in 2017, monthly ridership increased more than 30 percent, and we’re confident we can encourage similar monthly passenger trip totals, especially during the spring and summer tourism season.”
Major barriers to streetcar ridership have occurred within the last few years, which have resulted in low ridership. One barrier is determining how one will pay for the streetcar – either by carrying cash in an increasingly cashless society or by requiring infrequent transit users (most of the streetcar riders are visitors to central Arkansas and not regular transit users) to learn how to navigate transit-specific fare payment systems (tokens, passes or fare payment app purchases). The 2017 fare-free Rock the Rails campaign was successful in overcoming these challenges, boosting ridership among both visitors and locals, many of whom chose to ride the streetcar as part of group outings, where fast, effortless boarding is key.
Riding the Streetcar Has Never Been Easier
Riders can learn more about the two streetcar routes (the Little Rock-North Little Rock Blue Line can easily be distinguished from the Little Rock-service-only Green Line as “blue” for “water,” meaning the Blue Line crosses the Arkansas River and serves both Little Rock and North Little Rock) and their schedules (streetcar service operates seven days a week, excluding six holidays per year, with later service Thursday-Saturday) at rrmetro.org. They can also download the free METROtrack mobile app, available for download via Google Play or the Apple App Store, to watch the streetcars moving along their routes in real time and receive time predictions for how many minutes away the streetcars are from designated stops. Once riders are on board, they can enjoy the streetcar’s heated (and air-conditioned) cars, free WiFi and a casual tour of central Arkansas’ vibrant downtown.
METRO is reaching out to riders about the fare-free promotion with the help of industry partners and via social media, streetcar stop pole and shelter signs, and posters at businesses along the routes. (Please note: Most signs will be posted Thursday, Dec. 20.)
“We are certainly appreciative to our partners and the downtown businesses who have supported our efforts to improve the streetcar experience for riders. The entire reason the streetcar system exists is to bring awareness to our downtown restaurants, hotels, shops and cultural amenities, and we’re happy to have the continued support of these businesses as we do our part to contribute to the economic viability and ambiance of central Arkansas’ downtown neighborhoods,” said Frazier.