It’s been about two-and-a-half months since the star-crossed DC Streetcar finally started running along H Street and Benning Road, Northeast, and unlike its tortured, decade-long development, the early experience has been mostly incident free.
Maybe the streetcar’s relative success so far can be chalked up to the slow, measured approach District Department of Transportation director Leif Dormsjo took toward the project after joining the agency in early 2015. Or perhaps it could be that a training video DDOT released in the days before the streetcar’s February 27 launch actually took hold with the riding public.
The video, follows a guy named Dan arranging a date with a DC Streetcar aficionado on an OKCupid-like website, only to panic when he realizes he doesn’t know “how” to ride. So Dan calls his friend, Kim, who teaches him all the tricks to successful streetcar ridership in a 1980s-style training montage. It’s got bad synth music, extended running scenes, rookie mistakes, and struggles to complete push-ups and pull-ups. As far as training montages go, it’s nowhere near as good as Apollo Creed coaching Rocky Balboa in Rocky III, but it’s better than Rocky running up the mountain and screaming “Drago!” in Rocky IV.
In the video that was released to the public, Dan learns to ride the streetcar and proceeds to have a lovely evening. But, it turns out, there was an alternate ending. In a version obtained Monday by Motherboard, Dan gets to the streetcar to meet his date, but realizes at the last second that he’s loved Kim all along and runs after a departing trolley in desperation (which is probably on the list of things one is not supposed to do around a streetcar).
Motherboard reports the video struggled much like the transit system it represents. Filmed in 2014, its production was held up because the streetcar—then in an extended testing phase—was not ready to ride, and sparked production notes complaining about its length.
The alternate ending is much sweeter than the original—Dan clearly belongs with Kim. Maybe DDOT should release this version to boost the streetcar. After an exciting first few days, ridership dropped off from a daily average of 2,419 in March to 2,285 in April, with the average trip between Union Station and Oklahoma Avenue taking 20 minutes. Greater Greater Washington calls those numbers “not bad,” writing that it puts the $200 million, 1.9-mile line in the top half of US streetcar systems measured by riders per mile.
But if experiences in other cities are any hint, the DC Streetcar is enjoying it relative success because its free to ride right now, though DDOT says it won’t be forever, and charging people to ride is usually followed by a drop-off in customers. Ridership on Atlanta’s streetcar, which launched in 2015, dropped by 48 percent in the first three months of 2016 after introducing a $1 fare.