The time is ripe for a central intercity bus terminal in Cincinnati

Megabus is experiencing tremendous ridership growth throughout the Midwest, and is working to expand their intercity bus service to and from places like Cincinnati. In 2010 the company experienced amazing growth of 65 percent and now records $100 million in business annually on 135 buses to 50 different U.S. cities daily.

The growth has been so profound that the company has spawned the “Megabus effect” which is driving up ridership for providers such as Greyhound and BoltBus. And cities all across the U.S. are scrambling to offer prime locations for Megabus to utilize.


Megabus picks up passengers at 4th & Race Street in downtown Cincinnati – Photograph by Thadd Fiala for UrbanCincy.

The European-based company prides itself on its low fares, and does so in part through its low overhead. The intercity bus service accomplishes this by picking up and dropping off passengers along the street. Thus no facility or overhead costs are needed for their operations, but passengers must deal with inclement weather and lack of waiting area typically provided at other transport facilities.

Greyhound historically located its facilities on the edges of downtowns in otherwise rundown areas. This model is changing though as Greyhound attempts to attract new choice riders to its operations. The new Greyhound Express services include buses similarly equipped to Megabus and BoltBus.

Fortunately for Cincinnati, city leaders have an underutilized piece of infrastructure built beneath 2nd Street. The $18 million Riverfront Transit Center (RTC) was completed in 2002 as part of the reconfiguration of Fort Washington Way (FWW), and has sat there rarely used ever since. Its presence presents the opportunity for Cincinnati to create a consolidated bus terminal in the heart of its urban core without negatively impacting the quality of life of those around it.


Riverfront Transit Center interior photographs by Ronny Salerno.

The opportunity of both bus service providers being able to locate within a consolidated, covered and modern facility in the heart of Cincinnati’s downtown would seem to be attractive. Passengers could wait inside and out of the elements; hotels, shops and restaurants would greet arriving passengers above at The Banks; easy access to local bus and streetcar service would be available, and the providers would have a protected area to park their buses.

Meanwhile, the city would be able to finally utilize one of its most unique pieces of infrastructure. Future bus service providers could also tap into the RTC until capacity is reached. This would allow the Queen City to have a centrally located, consolidated intercity bus terminal convenient to travelers and beneficial to service providers.

Financing of maintenance costs would have to be determined, but a deal on Greyhound’s land and some sort of a license fee agreement with Megabus and others could be reached to help offset costs.

Building the RTC today would most likely prove to be cost prohibitive. Fortunately, city leaders had the foresight to build this piece of infrastructure beneath 2nd Street. City leaders should move to free the already congested 4th Street of Megabus operations, open up land adjacent to the city’s new casino for future economic development, and establish a center that will facilitate the addition of other intercity bus service providers.

  • crankyoldbitch

    Great idea Randy. You seem to have a wealth of knowledge about Cincinnati’s infrastructure that’s unknown to the rest of us.

    One question, do think the upscale nature of the Banks might cause those vendors to push back? Do they really want sweaty customers w 3 kids that have been on the bus from TX for 3 days mingling w the type of clientele they’re trying to attract? There’s a reason bus stations are generally on the edge of town.

    Also, I wonder if the city would allow food trucks to work the terminal. Taco Azul would be a blessing as an alternative to the overpriced vending machines they have in most terminals, and well within the price range of most travelers. Just throwing that out there.

  • adam.

    @crankyoldbitch, do you wonder if you have the cause/effect backwards? I would argue (and many others have argued), that your clientele is likely to be determined by your level of service. Provide a high level of service making the bus alternative a product of choice, and get a ridership that includes choice customers. That level of service is something that providers such as Megabus are offering and in doing so they have tapped an unserved market and as this article shares, reaping a reward. My car-less professional friend in Chicago makes his trips to cinci via Megabus about half the time (the other half he rents a car). He prefers the bus but it is sometimes too inconvenient or impractical, a better service would mean more bus trips for him. And the banks vendors would be happy to take his money.

  • Jon

    Randy-
    Great suggestion-

    In the short term, who decides where Megabus picks up? Is it simply an agreement with the City? Moving greyhound would be a bit more complicated, but moving Megabus shouldn’t be that difficult. The subsidized parking at the banks provides a low cost option for those driving to the bus and leaving their cars for a few days.

  • http://quimbob.blogspot.com/ Quimbob

    I would think Greyhound would love it. Dunno if there is a place for ticket offices, maintenance facilities, etc.
    Megabus might be a hard sell, tho since they are pretty much working free right now. Being able to connect with Metro & TANK more easily (well, for the passenger) should be attractive to both, tho.

  • Schmiez

    What about Plum Street? There’s a deli, a bar, near hotels, near food trucks, wide lanes, easy access from 75, near residential so there is more foot traffic, etc…

    The other thought is that if aint broke, dont fix it. MB only comes 2-3 times a day, and never during rush hour, so traffic isnt an issue.

  • Ryan L

    I have actually considered the same thing, Randy. I took the Megabus to Pittsburgh a little while back. Though it wasn’t raining, it was hot and a covered area away from the elements would be appreciated. In Pittsburgh the Megabus drops you off at the David Lawrence Convention Center under a very convenient covering to protect you from the weather (though it is still open to the heat/cold).

    Most of the riders I saw were not in any way dirty, smelly, sweaty, etc as crankyoldbitch suggests. Though I have not been on a Greyhound bus or any other intercity bus services. I loved my trip and it was much cheaper than driving 300 miles by myself. If this were to work (meaning all intercity buses stop there), I would have to insist Cincinnati should get a booth for tourist information inside the RTC to ensure repeat customers.

    I think that if you were dropped off in the RTC, it would be a very grand entrance into Cincinnati when you go up the stairs facing Great American Ballpark, the skyscrapers on 3rd Street, and the Banks.

    Something that would be interesting would be if the RTC could open a website that you could enter the city you want to go to, the time and day you want to go, and it would search the Megabus, Greyhound, etc. websites and sort the results by price. Sort of like how Hotwire or Travelocity do for airlines (perhaps this should be a private business to operate the website for all cities). Just a thought. Does this already exist for bus service?

  • http://5chw4r7z.blogspot.com 5chw4r7z

    I’m not sold on a central location, one of the strengths of Mega is they can follow their customers and quickly change and adapt.
    For instance, when they first started in Cincinnati they picked up and dropped off on 7th in front of what was then the Federated building and now Macy’s.

  • Schmiez

    to Cranky:

    My regular megabus rider has commented that the public is “catching on” to megabus, meaning the quality of rider has dropped off in recent months. However, he noted that with Greyhounds new fleet, and better times, the clientele for GH has improved drastically, and the only impetus is the station locations for the time being.

  • Dustin C

    Great thought Randy–use it now, don’t just sit on the infrastructure. Right now the Riverfront Transit Center (RTC) is completely UN(der)utilized, aside from city services as little more than a sheltered parking lot. Yet is is fully equipped–bathrooms, elevators, good lighting, AND [most importantly] most of THE regional attractions of the City. This could be a launch pad for the visitors to the city! Add shuttles to and from Fountain Square and Government Center Square such until the Cinci Street Car (Part B) makes it to RTC. Cincinnati USA says downtown currently has 3.8 Million visitors annually!

    ALREADY this area of Cinci hosts Banks night life and restaurants, PBS + Great American, the new Riverfront Park, US Bank Arena, BB Riverboats, the WEBN Fireworks, the Duke Convention Center, and dozens of other special events. Next would be to capitalize on EASY links to other institutions of the City. Have the “One for Fun” Metro bus come thru RTC, thus linking to all of this ( http://www.sorta.com/news/2010/nr36.html ).

    Additional infrastructure would be needed. Ticket + Info Stations could be rentable (or built by, or free) to the likes or Metro, TANK, Amtrak (to sell and shuttle to Union Terminal), The Airport Shuttle, Greyhound, and Megabus, potentially taxis or new burgeoning transit companies who want to do business in Cinci. Have the Taco trucks rent out stalls dispersed between the transit booths and pick-up area like ‘Crankyoldbich’ suggested! The portable Taco trucks could easily discern peak periods of pick-ups, drop offs and transfers, and route a truck as they see most profitable.

    As the RTC sits it generates $ 0 net revenues (actually a net negative with general aging and deterioration). Lets face it; as much as I and millions of other Americans want a High-Speed Rail Network it is NOT feasible in Cinci at least until 2014 (with Gov f***face). Creating rentable spaces for transit companies and taco trucks, and perhaps a magazine stand/connivence store could produce much better than $ 0 net revenues. Now add potential new traffic in and thru the city and the sales taxes that would generate, the added friendliness of the city to strangers, and a true regional hub (keep in mind to + from Cincinnati — Louisville, Lexington, and Nashville could easily be within the next extensions of Mega Bus).

    Major US cities in the Northeast ALWAYS feature a transit hub as do our competitors in the Mid-west (Chicago Union Station, Milwaukee Transit Center, St Louis Union Center, Cleveland’s Union Tower Plaza, ect.)!! Throughout Türkey and Istanbül such transit hubs RENT to any and all public and private transportation companies, $$ that hits the coffers of the city. Until the intended use of the structure comes online–a HSR connection–the RTC could greatly boast the city, linkages to NKY and the rest of the region.

  • Abdul

    great suggestion. How do we make this happen?

  • http://archperspective.blogspot.com Nammitt

    Student senate at the University of Cincinnati has been in negotiations with Megabus about coordinating a more secure drop-off location for students when they arrive in town.

    It was a point for several of the University presidential candidates to get this bus situation sorted out, and I think that along merits some more in-depth discussion from transit authorities in Cincinnati.

    All told, in addition to tourists and visitors coming to Cincinnati for the first time, there is a substantial number of out-of-town University students who take the bus in and out after every quarter/semester. I think the RTC is a wonderful but underutilized resource that should definitely be capitalized on! Now the question is (as Abdul so purely puts it) how do we make this happen?

  • Neil Clingerman

    I’d also contact Megabus ask them if they are interested in relocating to a sheltered area and if they would talk with the City about making use of the space. At the very least post something on their Facebook/Twitter page, or at their customer service general inquiries contact: enquiries@megabus.com (ah the British spelling of inquiry ;) ).

    Also email the city council at the same time and express an interest in this to them so they can talk with Coach USA (Megabus parent company). I’m not sure if Coach USA’s current business model will make management willing to pay rental fees. At the very least the city can start out by making it free to use and then if demand gets to high start charging for carriers to use it. Wait until the market is a bit more mature with more competition when more factors besides price start coming into play in the market to start charging extra fees to the carriers.

  • Neil Clingerman

    Oh it should be inquiries@megabus.com – I was looking at the British site… that’s why the spelling was wrong.

  • Tyler

    Dustin,

    I may be wrong, but wasn’t the high speed rail station supposed to be at Union Terminal? I always thought RTC was for buses (initially) and then as a light rail/transit rail station further down the road.

  • http://redantcreations.com Gary Berkowitz

    It would be great if the RTC could be utilized, and the Greyhound station closed; but I have a feeling that the powers that be would be strongly against it. Greyhound’s cliental includes, and always will include, the criminals of the world who cannot afford to drive. The “not in my backyard”ers in the RTC area have deep pockets which translates into power. When casino construction began, I was surprised that Greyhound did not move to some forsaken peripheral area, like Sharonville.

  • Dennis

    This is such a solid idea. It needs to move from the the discussion stage and be implemented. This is is exactly what the station was intentioned to be used for.

  • Joe

    Union Terminal was supposed to become a transit hub for the city with Amtrak,light rail, and streetcar going to it. The Museum Center is undergoing a visioning process on what they want to do in the case their levy for renovations is passed by voters. It is possible megabus is part of that plan.

  • http://www.UrbanCincy.com/ Randy A. Simes

    Thanks for all of the feedback. This really does seem like something city leaders should look into given the good timing for such a change. Broker a deal with Greyhound as they begin to get pressured to move by casino interests, and appeal to Megabus as their ridership continues to grow.

    As Dustin C pointed out, it would seem logical that the next round of expansion for Megabus will be to the south from its existing Midwest and Northeast hubs. Cincinnati would seem to be a logical point in that system for a transfer point between Midwest and Southeast hubs. All the more reason for a more bona fide station.

    FYI – The Riverfront Transit Center was never designed to accommodate high speed rail. It was designed, instead, to accommodate future commuter rail service with any potential light rail service running along at street level on 2nd Street.

  • GoCoast

    Why not just propose another crime choo choo to nowhere boondoggle? Yet another boondoggle idea from the pie in the sky libs.

    Stop wasting our taxdollars for your expensive fantasies.

  • http://www.protransit.com John Schneider

    A little history. The Riverfront Transit Center was designed to handle episodic events like highly-attended Reds and Bengals games, Tall Stacks, and Riverfest, not regularly scheduled transit service. The huge exhaust fans, elevators and lighting make it a pretty expense facility to operate 24/7. So any plan to use the RTC for scheduled inter-city bus service would entail some very high costs for Megabus or Greyhound or both. Plus, no space was ever designed-in for ticketing, waiting rooms, baggage, freight, those sorts of things. Those functions could maybe still be accomodated, just not sure how. Also, the linear design — eight city blocks long — could make for a long walk to the some of buses wherever those facilities were centralized. Fueling would be a problem there.

    Metro never intended to use the RTC for the Regional Rail Plan. It was Todd Portune’s idea to use it for the Eastern Corridor Commuter Rail along the Oasis Line, which Metro has never bought into because of minimal rideship and the near-impossibility of getting rail into the RTC from the east. Metro would rather deliver light rail passengers to the center of downtown office employment, not drop them off below Second Street.

    The location is OK for inter-city bus service, but the design and cost would likely prevent it.

    A site directly north of the CBD on a wide street with freeway access within a block of multiple bus routes might work better. Grammer’s comes to mind.

  • Ryan L

    Can you imagine dropping off passengers from other cities at Grammer’s? I can’t imagine coming from Pittsburgh and getting dropped off in Over-the-Rhine after its reputation. I’m not saying that I won’t go there, but dropping some out of town traveler on Liberty Street (sometimes in the wee hours of the morning) would not be ideal. I think Megabus is better suited staying on Fourth Street than moving to Grammer’s any time soon.

  • crankyoldbitch

    @Ryan L,

    “Though I have not been on a Greyhound bus or any other intercity bus services.” I was speaking from long experience. In fact, I just took Greyhound to DC last year. And since I’m the friendly type, I quite enjoyed my conversation w the drunk from the halfway house. He helped me w my bags and asked me out the next time I’m in DC.

    Megabus and Greyhound currently attract two different tiers of customers. If they share a terminal, then vendors take the wheat w the chaff. I don’t have a problem w that. But Cincy isn’t Portland, and here the middle class doesn’t want to rub elbows with anyone that, well, isn’t. That’s the premise my question was based on, but my question isn’t a central issue, just something that might come up if the the city wisely considered Randy’s suggestion.

    I can really see the benefit in winter, or in our current 100 degree heat, of a underground structure. Also, won’t the Greyhound terminal be moving when the casino is built.

    Again, it was never my intention to denigrate a proposal I really like, but I’ve been using mass transit for a long, long time in many different cities. My rose colored glasses broke long ago,

  • http://urbancincy.com/author/randysimes Randy A. Simes

    @crankyoldbitch: There is no specific plan to relocate the Greyhound station at Broadway Commons just yet. As of now it is outside of the construction zone for the new casino, but the rumblings have already started, from the business interests around town, about what could be done with that site.

    Honestly, I would imagine that the casino operators have their eyes set on it so that they can build their own hotel there in a few years once that restriction is lifted. If not that, it could make for a convenient area to which the casino could expand.

  • http://urbancincy.com/author/randysimes Randy A. Simes

    @GoCoast: These are buses we’re talking about here…the buses COAST always seems to love. In fact, I’m sure all of COAST’s members have taken Greyhound and Megabus before just because you love the idea of rubber-wheeled transport so much.

    The reality is that this is an existing asset, and one that is completely underutilized at that. The businessman hiding inside of you should see the opportunity that lies here. Whether you like the idea of the Riverfront Transit Center or not is irrelevant. It is already built and exists right beneath 2nd Street.

    So why not use the asset we have to help better the city and make it more attractive to those coming from other places to spend their money here?

    [Side note: I’m sure GoCoast won’t actually answer this specific question and will instead respond with some sort of snark where they attack the streetcar and use the “boondoggle” at least once…if they reply at all.)

  • http://quimbob.blogspot.com/ Quimbob

    COA T – vision-free since 1999

  • http://www.UrbanCincy.Com Randy A. Simes

    Imposters are running rampant here and at other comment sites. We only comment from verifiable addresses (this example excepted). Please check that before ASSuming an outlandish remark is really from COAST.

    Now that the Transit Center Boondoggle is a sunk cost, it actually would be beneficial to rent it out to Megabus or Greyhound to recover some of the wasted tax money. Unfortunately, we have yet to see any local agency show a modicum of interest in working with private, for-profit, transportation systems. Their DNA seems to limit them to money-losing government-run transit. Hopefully we’ll be proven wrong, and if so, we’ll applaud the move.

    -COAST

  • Ryan L

    I am a little disappointed that someone commented who was not really COAST. The comment seemed a little too simplistic and barbaric to be true when I first read it. I give them so much crap for their double standards and contradictions, and it is a shame that some have stooped so low. Some form of authentication may need to be used to keep users honest if this continues.

    COAST’s blog and the Cincinnati Enquirer’s website are both great examples of comment streams that go nowhere. This site typically has a very honest, worthwhile (even heated sometimes) debate or discussion. I would hate to see this go away. I hope everyone remains honest with their identity to keep these discussions worthwhile.

    P.S. @COAST – when you are trying to imply that you are somehow better than anyone, you should not use awful puns (like “ASSuming”). You should not use the one word that everyone hates and thinks you sound like an idiot using (“Boondoggle”). And you should not stoop down to the other person’s level and steal an identity. Try to be better than us. If someone calls you a name, you aren’t supposed to say it back at them. You are supposed to rise above that person and be mature about it.

    Also, if I am not mistaken (not sure if it was this blog or another), you were commenting from a library computer one time. It would be very easy to put your email address in the field and claim to be you, so the only real authentication is IP address which is apparently not always consistent. Just saying.

    End Rant.

  • http://www.UrbanCincy.com/ Randy A. Simes

    I would also recommend that COAST not complain about someone impersonating them, and then proceeding to impersonate someone else (as they did just above with my very own name). Furthermore, COAST has allowed these kinds of commentors to run rampant on their very own website (e.g. “Sandy Rimes”, “The Simes Times”, “Bhris Cortz” and so on).

  • Schmiez

    For anyone who’s ever been to Belterra, or any casino, there is HEAVY bus traffic from charter trips. GH might actually benefit from keeping that location, as they could upgrade and lease out services to the charters. And with the traffic increase, and infrastructure adjustments, MB should look into dropp-offs near the casino.

    Granted its tough to maneuver from I-75 to broadway commons currently in a bus.

  • Good Ol’ JR

    A little bit of history about Cincinnati Riverfront Transit Center. It was constructed along with new Fort Washington Way and the 10 year late Banks Project. It was supposed to relocate Cincinnati’s intracity transit services to a riverfront community surrounded by the stadiums. Problems arose when interest in The Banks fell through and light rail / streetcar plans were abandoned. There were never plans to have intercity bus service as there are no places to sit.

    As someone who has been through, both as an operator and a passenger, it is a magnificent facility. Plenty of space, well laid out, and very inviting. It is a shame that it has remained relatively dormant since the last Tall Stacks festival. Currently it serves as a dwell point for charter service serving ballgames. If METRO and TANK are unwilling to utilize it, by all means convert it to an intercity hub.

  • http://cincinnatitransit.blogspot.com/ Zachary Schunn

    Using RTC as a bus center is a terrific idea. Gives passengers a waiting area for Megabus and Greyhound, and makes it MUCH easier to pick up riders once they arrive (imagine trying to find a spot to sit and wait for someone on 4th Street, vs. 2nd Street). The center could also be used for other bus traffic (excluding Metro and TANK, who from what others have said it seems aren’t interested). There are plenty of Reds game shuttles, school bus trips, etc. that could use the center instead of clogging up 2nd Street.

    As for the clientele, I’ve never ridden Greyhound but Megabus passengers tend to be young adults and often businessmen simply looking for a cheaper means of travel. I’m sure the Banks would be happy to invite them in!

    @Nate: Has there been any talk of including UC as a stop on Megabus routes? Currently Megabus stops at OSU in Columbus, and I think it would be easy to convince Megabus that they would acquire many more riders if only they stopped at UC.

    @Randy: I’ll politely disagree with your comment that the next logical track is south. Keep in mind that Megabus consolidated a few years back, eliminating unpopular trips on the west coast, before expanding its east coast and Midwest networks. I think it’s going to saturate the regional market before taking the leap south, where population density is lower and bus travel is a little less “hip.” I would argue for other Cincinnati routes–Cincinnati > Cleveland is badly needed, and I think Cin > Detroit via Dayton and Toledo would get quite a bit of traffic–before trying a Louisville/Nashville or Knoxville/Atlanta route. Just my two sense.

    Oh and Randy, concerning COAST… maybe it’s time for a password system? I personally have quit paying attention to outside posters for a while, as there’s no way to verify who they really are.

  • http://archperspective.blogspot.com Nammitt

    Hi Zach,

    I have emailed Student Senator Lane Hart regarding this matter and am still waiting for a reply. I’ll keep you posted. If Megabus decides to make its stop up in Clifton it will definitely be news worth sharing.