Portland Streetcar roaring along at top speed.
Portland Streetcar roaring along at top speed. Colton Beha / Portland Streetcar

Streetcar ridership has hit record levels.

Yep, the lackadaisical, metal caterpillar that plods through the Pearl, South to OHSU, and along the Inner Eastside, has never been more popular. According to its website, the Portland Streetcar averaged a whopping 16,650 weekday riders in April (compared to a recent low of 13,259 in December), the highest since the streetcar's rebirth in 2001. That's a 4.5 percent increase compared to April 2017's ridership level.

TriMet, meanwhile, continues to see a decrease in riders. In April, TriMet bus and MAX ridership dropped 1.6 percent below last April's level.

Somehow, the least reliable, most expensive form of public transportation in Portland is gaining users—almost one hundred years since Portland's OG streetcar system was at its prime.

And Portland's fun new traffic jams and creeping gas prices are probably to blame.

"With ridership growing, the Streetcar remains an important tool to fight congestion in our growing city," says City Comissioner Dan Saltzman, who oversees Portland's Bureau of Transportation, in a news release.

The streetcar, which is often outpaced by bikes and/or human legs, has been a boon to Portland's business community, since it regularly plops curious tourists out in front of downtown shops. But for those trying to get to work on time, or, really, anywhere outside of the downtown core, it's not a feasible transportation option.

TriMet data analysts have blamed the dip in TriMet ridership to the pattern of lower-income, bus-riding Portlanders being pushed out of inner city neighborhoods due to creeping housing prices. Many have fled to the city's outskirts or surrounding towns, areas with less frequent TriMet services.

This trend leaves us with big, probably uncomfortable question: What population is Portland's public transit catering to?

Tourists, businesses, and higher-income residents of downtown Portland dodging rush-hour traffic? Or the lower-income carless Portlanders who depend on reliable transit to run errands, get to work, or see family?

Related Street Car content:
Those I've Killed So Far by the Portland Streetcar

Those I've Killed So Far by the Portland Streetcar Chapter 2: What a Pity

Those I've Killed So Far by the Portland Streetcar Chapter 3: MURDER, SHE RODE

Those I've Killed So Far by the Portland Streetcar THE FINAL CHAPTER: A STREETCAR NAMED "DESTRUCTION"