MILWAUKEE -- The Hop, Milwaukee's streetcar, celebrated one year of service on Friday, Nov. 1 -- and that celebration comes with big news.
"Over the year, over 40,000 trips on our streetcar have occurred," said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. "I am thrilled to report that our ridership for year one is 802,541 or 2205 per day. We've shattered our projections."
The "birthday party" for The Hop was held at City Hall -- and there was cake and treats, all while officials took a look back at the first year. Mayor Barrett said 93 percent of rides were on time -- with a record day of almost 9,000 riders during Bastille Days. The lowest ridership came in January.
Now, after a year of service, The Hop will remain free through Dec. 31 thanks to a partnership announced on Friday.
"We want to continue to support all of the things that are making Milwaukee such a great place," said Brett Lindsey of Everstream.
Everstream, the business-only fiber network, announced it will provide the free fares to all streetcar riders through the end of the year while also collaborating with The Hop on a festive, holiday-themed streetcar.
"I think at some point there will be fares. But in the foreseeable future, we're going to continue to have it be free," Barrett said.
Everstream’s sponsorship of free streetcar fares begins on Saturday, Nov. 2. The Everstream-branded and holiday-themed streetcar will debut later in November to coincide with the city’s annual tree lighting ceremony.
Not everyone was celebrating the news on Friday. Alderman Tony Zielinski, who will run against Mayor Tom Barrett in 2020, released the following statement:
"Mayor Barrett was front and center today at City Hall during the one year anniversary celebration for the streetcar. He was all smiles while most city residents drive down pothole-pocked streets and struggle to make ends meet, and while the city is facing its tightest budget in years.
"The theme of the streetcar celebration should have been “Home of the Misplaced Priorities Express.”
"While the city is facing a looming pension crisis, and is eliminating 60 police officer positions in the 2020 proposed budget, the Mayor is relishing in the first year operation of the streetcar – a system relegated to serving a tiny sliver of the city (downtown) and no available funding for expansion (except without very likely hitting taxpayers hard).
"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. 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.
"My question is ‘Why would the state give Milwaukee the sales tax increase if they feel the Mayor is just going to waste it?’
"The Mayor is recklessly compromising our ability to get much needed help from the state BECAUSE of (and not in spite of) the streetcar!
"The Mayor is celebrating the streetcar while vulnerable children are being affected by exposure to toxic lead that can impact them for the rest of their lives, both physically and mentally."