RATP Dev McDonald Transit Associates will be paid $4 million a year to handle the day-to-day operations of the 2.2 miles of track along H Street and Benning Road NE for the next five years. The company also will oversee training and maintenance facilities.

The city will still own the line and control fares, said District Department of Transportation spokesman John Lisle.

"What DDOT's role has been to this point -- and will continue to be -- is the development of the system and planning it, constructing it," he said. "But we need someone with expertise in actually running a transit system to do the day-to-day operations."

But DDOT has begun entertaining the idea of privatizing the streetcar and nonregional bus systems. If officials decide to team up with the private sector, Lisle said it's not clear where this newest contract would fit in.

"The reason why we're looking at [a public-private partnership] is that we believe it's possible that we could have 22 miles of streetcars built in five to seven years -- potentially much faster than we could build it on our own," Lisle said.

But for now, DDOT is happy to get things off the ground with RDMT. The city plans to finish building the line to the tune of $50 million and open it next summer.

"With this announcement, we now have the final piece in place needed to see the initial streetcar line operational next year," Mayor Vincent Gray said.

RDMT is a part of RATP Group, the world's fifth largest transportation company. It operates bus, metro, train and tram systems in 12 countries and in cities like Hong Kong, Johannesburg and London.

"It is great that we were able to select a team with that much experience," Lisle said. "This isn't going to be a new venture for them. They have done this before and will be bringing all that experience to bear."