The streetcar system could require a $304,000 annual subsidy from the city of Tampa beginning in 2018, a figure that would more than double by 2023, a draft streetcar business plan shows.
By 2033, the TECO Line Streetcar System would require an annual subsidy of $1.5 million, the plan estimates.
The figures bring to the forefront an issue city officials and the TECO Line Streetcar System board have quietly fretted over – the need for the city to rescue the financially beleaguered system.
The streetcar began operation in 2002 with a $5 million endowment. The endowment was supposed to be slowly drawn down; initial projections were that the endowment would still be larger than $1 million by 2025.
Now, the endowment is expected to quit producing a cash flow by 2016. Streetcar officials say that's because of multiple factors, including the nation's economic downturn.
"If the city wants the streetcar to thrive, it must be funded and it must be expanded," streetcar board member Michael English said.
English was referring to a $47 million plan – it currently has no funding source - to double the 2.7 mile streetcar route to create a complete loop though downtown and Ybor City. That would better serve local passengers in addition to the visitors the current route was designed to serve.
The city faces prospects of repaying the federal government some portion of its $55 million investment in the system if the streetcar is shut down so local officials are likely to keep trying to salvage it.
Board members on Wednesday deferred action on the fiscal 2013 streetcar budget pending additional information, including the effects on revenue and ridership of lowering fares from $2.50 to $2 and lowering the one-day pass from $5 to $4.50. The board will vote on the $1.4 million operating budget next month.
Annual ridership is projected to decline in 2013 to 330,000, 23 percent lower than 2010.
Jeff Seward, chief financial officer of Hillsborough Area Regional Transit which operates and maintains the TECO streetcar, said high unemployment and fewer visitors were likely causes, with fare increases and trip reductions in recent years also playing roles.