Milwaukee has for years been listed among the largest American cities without easy-on, easy-off urban rail transit. But that ends Friday when the city officially opens the initial 2.1-mile line for “The Hop,” the new downtown streetcar system.

The Hop will be winding through downtown Milwaukee, carrying bus and Amtrak riders from the Intermodal Station in the city’s Third Ward neighborhood, past familiar downtown sites like the Milwaukee Public Market, City Hall, the Milwaukee School of Engineering and Cathedral Square Park, to the city’s Lower East Side, just a few blocks from Veterans Park along Lake Michigan.

The first year of fares will be free to all riders as part of a 12-year, $10 million sponsorship agreement with Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. After the first 12 months, the expected fare will be $1. Eighteen stations dot the route, with the streetcars expected to arrive every 15 minutes from 5 a.m. to 12 a.m. Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 12 a.m. Saturday, and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.

“This week is going to show the naysayers that this is a really modern mode of transportation for a city like Milwaukee,” said Rodney Ferguson, CEO/GM of Potawatomi Hotel & Casino.

Milwaukee has a long history with streetcars. The earliest, dating back to 1860, were horse-drawn cars on rails. In 1890, an electric streetcar system was formed through the Milwaukee Electric Railway Company (later, We Energies); it eventually served all of metro Milwaukee on 190 miles of track. Eventually the company chose to take out the tracks, and the streetcar system came to an end in 1958.

The new streetcar system will officially get underway on Friday at noon with a kickoff event centered around Cathedral Square Park, with activities planned along the route to introduce riders and the downtown Milwaukee community to the new $128 million project that includes federal grants and local tax incremental financing.

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