Bus rapid transit systems in the U.S. not keeping pace

Many American cities, Cincinnati included, are working towards enhancing their bus systems as ridership grows. Bus rapid transit systems consistently come up as potential solutions, but rarely are they true BRT systems. More from Greater Greater Washington:

The Institute for Transportation & Development Policy publishes BRT standards that describe minimum characteristics necessary for a bus route to qualify as BRT. Those standards establish three levels of BRT quality: bronze, silver, and gold. They include features like off-bus fare collection, high station platforms, and bus frequency.

So far, only 5 lines in the United States have scored highly enough to qualify as true BRT, and all 5 rank at the bronze level. Not one is even silver, let alone gold.

According to ITDP, the best performing BRT systems in the world are Bogota, Colombia and Guangzhou, China, which score 93/100 and 89/100, respectively. They are the gold standard.

Greater Cincinnati Earth Coalition accepting nominations for 2013 awards

Since 2008, the Greater Cincinnati Earth Coalition has honored the region’s most outstanding and innovative projects, programs and individuals whose efforts have worked to improve and protect the environment.

Each year the organization has honored teachers, students, citizens, businesses, and governmental agencies for their work during Earth Day celebrations at Sawyer Point Park.

2012 Earth Day Environmental Awards

In 2012, Cincinnati’s Office of Environmental Quality (government), the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority’s Metro bus service (business/organization), Regina Faulkner (citizen), Brian Kunkemoeller (student), and Ellen McGrath (teacher) were honored.

Earth Day celebrations will take place on Saturday, April 20 at Sawyer Point from 12pm to 5pm, and the Greater Cincinnati Earth Coalition is now accepting nominations for this year’s awards. Those who feel that they know of a qualified candidate are asked to follow the guidelines for each category.

  • Business/Organization: Recognizes commitment to the environment, including through green design, recycling, environmental programming, energy innovation, or products.
  • Government Agencies: Recognizes environmental stewardship, including through programming, legislation, air-quality, environmental promotion, community building or conservation.
  • Teacher: Recognizes efforts to increase environmental awareness, including demonstrating leadership or teaching others about the environment.
  • Student: Recognizes a student who has demonstrated environmental stewardship.
  • Citizen: Recognized an individual who has demonstrated a contribution to the environment.

Nominations for the 2013 Environmental Awards are due by March 15, 2013. Nomination forms can be downloaded online and submitted to Cindy Kirchmer at kirchmer.cindy@epa.gov or mailed to U.S. EPA, Attn: Cindy Kirchmer (WG-12), 26 W. Martin Luther King Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45368.

User fees aren’t coming close to covering roadway costs

Roads have long been perceived as self-financing through their user fees (gasoline taxes, tolls, and other fees). As it turns out, Amtrak actually is one of the most self-sustaining transportation programs in America covering about 85% of its expenses through user fees. More from Streetsblog Capitol Hill:

A new report from the Tax Foundation shows 50.7 percent of America’s road spending comes from gas taxes, tolls, and other fees levied on drivers. The other 49.3 percent? Well, that comes from general tax dollars, just like education and health care. The way we spend on roads has nothing to do with the free market, or even how much people use roads.

Even more interesting is to compare roads to Amtrak, a favorite target of self-styled fiscal conservatives in Congress. Amtrak recovers about 85 percent of its operating costs from tickets — a relative bargain compared to other modes. Even accounting for capital costs, Amtrak — which operates mostly on privately owned tracks — covers 69 percent of its total costs through ticket prices and other fees to users.

Could Queensgate become an American hub for advanced manufacturing?

Cincinnati leaders have been looking for a way to transform the region’s industrial Mill Creek Valley. With a possible new program designed at training people in advanced manufacturing, might this be a new opportunity for Queensgate and the other neighborhoods in the valley? More from Next City:

The cutely named “Race to the Shop” is envisioned as a $150 million competition that would let cities and states vie for federal funding to support long-term strategic investment in workforce development for the advanced manufacturing sector…The policy recommendation is one of three focused on strengthening the American manufacturing sector — a sector that disproportionately affects cities (79.5 percent of manufacturing jobs are located in major metropolitan areas).

One of the proposals recommend congressional funding of at least 25 advanced industry innovation hubs themed around specific interests, some of which have an environmental silver lining such as carbon capture and storage. Modeled after the Department of Energy’s Energy Innovation Hubs program, which has its flagship site in Philadelphia, and the Department of Commerce’s National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), the hubs would be industry-led alliances of public, private and academic actors organized regionally.

New programs, technology driving ridership surge for Cincinnati’s largest transit provider

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) saw ridership on Metro bus service increase by approximately 200,000 riders in 2012.

SORTA officials say that the 4.2% increase is due in large part to a greater number of students from the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati State taking advantage of a new student pass program instituted by Metro last year. Metro officials say that there was a 24% increase in ridership at the University of Cincinnati, and a 19% increase at Cincinnati State when compared to their previous years.

As a result, the regional transit agency provided nearly 17.6 million rides and outpaced the 2.6% ridership increase experienced elsewhere throughout the United States, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

Cincinnati Metro Bus

Metro had provided around 20 million rides annually in the early 2000s until large-scale service reductions took effect when the national economy struggled.

“We’re focused on providing a great customer experience and are seeing positive results from improvements we’ve been making for our customers,” Metro’s CEO Terry Garcia Crews stated in a prepared release.

Metro also saw ridership gains along the 38X route running from the new Glenway Crossing Transit Hub to Uptown. This route experienced an 18% ridership increase when comparing data from December 2012 to December 2011 when the new west side transit hub opened.

“We expect the number of 38X riders to continue to climb,” explained Jill Dunne, Metro’s public affairs manager. “As more routes go through the Glenway Crossing Transit Hub, it will become easier to transfer to different routes, and that should help ridership continue to grow.”

One of the new additions riders can expect at the Glenway Crossing Transit Hub in 2013 is expanded crosstown service via Route 41. Metro officials say the service modification will be included in a new system plan to be released this spring, and will extend the existing Route 41 to North Bend Road to the new Mercy West Hospital, and connect through Cheviot and Westwood to the west side transit center.

Dunne also says that Metro*Plus limited stop service, previously discussed as Cincinnati’s version of bus rapid transit, will begin operating between Downtown, Uptown and Kenwood via Montgomery Road.

In addition to the physical improvements to the region’s bus system, Metro officials also believe that the agency’s new electronic fare payment system is making the system more attractive to new and existing riders. One of the new options riders might be able to expect in 2013 is a smart card that allows for stored values, in addition to the 30-day rolling pass and 10-ride ticket.

“We’ve upgraded our bus fleet, introduced new fare options, added real-time information at Government Square, improved our website and customer information, and that’s just the beginning,” Crews continued. “In 2013, we’re continuing to make Metro easier to ride to better meet the community’s needs for transit.”

Perhaps one of the most welcome pieces of news for existing Metro riders, however, is that SORTA does not anticipate any service reductions or fare increases in 2013.

We discussed bus rapid transit on episode one of The UrbanCincy Podcast with a city planner from Bogota, Colombia, and on episode two we discussed the problem of transportation poverty in the Cincinnati region, including the lack of service to the new Mercy West Hospital. You can stream our podcasts online or subscribe to our bi-weekly podcast on iTunes for free.