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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

Streetcars Will Operate Without Passengers To Save Money On Restart

Bill Rinehart

On Monday, Cincinnati's mayor and health commissioner ordered that the streetcar system stop passenger service because of health concerns with the COVID-19 crisis and the statewide stay-at-home order.

The city had to decide what to do with the streetcars: let them sit idle or allow them to be operated without passengers for maintenance purposes.

Council Member Chris Seelbach said in a tweet Thursday that City Manager Patrick Duhaney has decided to let the streetcar operate with no passengers and a skeleton work crew. 

A statement from the city spokesman was a little more vague.

"We received Transdev's proposals today and are evaluating the best course of action during the COVID-19 pandemic," the statement said.

Without that, it could have cost up to $1 million to restart service after the crisis is over.

Transdev, which has a contract with the city to operate the streetcars, had recommended skeleton staffing during the shutdown.

In a memo to Mayor John Cranley and council members, it said that option would include keeping 12 employees at a cost of $138,000 a month and a re-start cost of $150,000 when service resumes.

Those employees would:

  • Ensure the safety and security of entire streetcar system; maintain system assets in accordance with regulatory standards (FTA requirements)
  • Maintain vehicle and system certification with ODOT and FTA
  • Operate with the intention of a smooth economical restart

"Our recommendations will permit a safe and efficient restart once we are past the current crisis," wrote Transdev Rail Chief Operating Officer Alfred Craig. "We understand the reasons for the city's decision on suspending service and want you to know that we will work with the city to get through these challenging times."
The other option was for the five streetcars to be "mothballed" at the operations facility, and 29 employees would be furloughed with no system inspections or utility coordination. Staffing would be limited to security only.

Transdev said the complete suspension would cost $25,000 a month and a re-start cost for this options ranges from $300,000 to $1,000,000.

Transdev noted there are potential complications during a restart with a complete suspension.  Those include:

  • Commissioning system from a cold start
  • Recertification of operators, vehicles, systems
  • Safety certification by FTA and ODOT