Metro Looking For Feedback On How To Improve Regional Transit System

Over the past month, Metro has been hosting public listening sessions in order to get a better idea for what current and would-be transit riders are looking for out of the region’s largest transit provider.

While the five sessions have been completed, Metro is still accepting feedback through an online survey that takes about five minutes to complete. Agency officials have not said when that process will be closed, but they say that the goal is to compile the data by the end of the year.

This public feedback process falls in line with growing speculation that Metro will ask Hamilton County voters next fall to approve a sales tax increase that would pay for expanded bus service throughout the county. As it is now, Metro is almost exclusively funded by the City of Cincinnati, and thus primarily provides service within those boundaries. Service outside of those boundaries costs riders extra – a situation that would be removed should voters approve the sales tax increase.

“At the end of the day, the transit system belongs to the people,” explained Jason Dunn, SORTA Board Chair. “It is our job to be good stewards of the transit system and uphold its mission. Ultimately, we’ll use this feedback to help us make decisions that will set the agenda for transit in the future.”

The public is asked to weigh in on a number of key items in the survey, including where bus service should be extended, and what kinds of operating schedules are preferred. The survey also asks about whether real-time arrival display boards, enhanced shelters and ticketing machines would be desired. All of these are items Metro has been adding over recent years, but at a modest pace.

In relation to service operations, Metro officials ask about adding more direct crosstown routes, park-and-ride lots, operating buses earlier or later, increasing weekend frequencies, and adding service to major commercial corridors like Glenway Avenue, Hamilton Avenue, Vine Street, Reading Road and Madison Avenue.

Each of these corridors have been identified for more robust service akin to what has been done along Montgomery Road, which features the first Metro*Plus route in the region. While not full-blown bus rapid transit, Metro officials see it as a step in that direction with its more frequent service, enhanced bus shelters and less frequent stops that allow for faster travel.

Of course, without a dedicated regional transit tax many of these improvements will be difficult to accomplish, or take many years to realize. In the most recent round of TIGER funding, Cincinnati did not apply for any transit-related projects, nor did it even compete for any funds in the recent distribution of the FTA’s Transit-Oriented Development Planning Pilot Program.

While City Hall focused its TIGER grant applications on the Elmore Street Bridge and Wasson Way, both of which were unsuccessful, Metro officials said they did not apply for the FTA funds because they did not believe they had projects ready for successful consideration. But some local transit advocates disagree.

“Our elected officials and administrators are asleep at the wheel,” said Derek Bauman, Southwest Ohio Director of All Aboard Ohio and Chair of Cincinnatians for Progress. “Pools of money exist, particularly at the federal level, for all types of transit planning and construction. We must at accept that times have changed, prepare for the modes of transportation that people are demanding today, and then avail ourselves to resources to make it happen as they become available.”

An additional meeting will be held to gather public feedback from young professionals on Wednesday, November 11 from 6pm to 7:30pm at MORTAR Cincinnati in Over-the-Rhine. Metro CEO and General Manager Dwight Ferrell will be there to take part in the Q/A, and the first 50 people in attendance will receive a free $10 stored value bus pass.

Metro officials say that all of the feedback from the listening sessions and online survey will be considered by the newly created Metro Futures Task Force, which is made up of community leaders who will then present their findings to the SORTA Board in early 2016.

EDITORIAL NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect an additional public meeting that will be held on the evening of Wednesday, November 11.

  • Eira Tansey

    Are there detailed route maps for the proposed crosstown (West-East) routes? I cannot tell whether any go by UC.

  • Mark Christol

    some odd questions & answers

    • So Mr. Smarty Pants. What do you have on offer?

  • Brian Boland

    The problem is that development in the county since the end of WWII (well, ok, before that some, too) has been too low density for anything other than commuter runs into downtown to be feasible. What route anywhere outside of the city will have anything more than a handful of riders? And where would you ride it to? Within the city you can ride from a neighborhood where you walk to the stop and get on and go to another stop where you can get off and walk. The daily commuter rides to downtown and back make sense because once you are down there you don’t need a car. But just where would a bus line take you from, say, Blue Ash to Colerain? And where would you go once you got there? You have to drive to a bus stop, get on the bus, go to another stop and then what? Walk to where? You go from one place where you need a car to another place where you need a car–why would you do that? You wouldn’t, you’d just drive your car. It’s all the suburbs were designed for, so trying to make a bus line work there is like putting a square peg in a round hole.

    • Adam Nelson

      I’ve always thought it would be fascinating to see some high frequency BRT run up and down colerain combined with a zoning change removing parking minimums for a few hundred feet to either side of colerain and encouraging 0 lot line buildings facing it. It would be nearly free sprawl repair (zoning code change, some specially painted buses, some drivers) and their tax base would mushroom as developers made more profitable use of their parking lots.

      Colerain TWP doesn’t have a center but it does have a spine.

    • Brian Boland

      You have hit upon the very crux of modern state-funded development. The state Dept of Highways (yep, highways) subsidizes the kind of development you are noticing. Colerain ave, Beechmont ave, Montgomery road, all look the same. Look at Rt 4 heading north from 275. That’s how the state builds and the kind of development they encourage.

    • Matt Jacob

      I agree, Brian. A huge part of the problem with expanding service into the suburbs is that pedestrian infrastructure doesn’t really exist there, so it’s too far or actually dangerous to walk to your office after the bus drops you off. At best you’re required to bring your bike on the bus for the last mile. The hard part is stringing together enough express stops that actually have high enough job/residential density to justify even running the route. If you can’t get to the density with sidewalks within a half mile, the bus shouldn’t even stop. I’d try and make the pedestrian infrastructure a condition of getting a stop for each of these suburban communities. Drive right through the places that don’t buy in, because it would just slow down the route and waste everyone’s time.

      Another way to get around the density problem is to aggregate the low density by partnering with other transit systems to feed their riders to one stop along your express route. This option doesn’t seem to be on the table of what SORTA is looking at, but building a BRT backbone down I-75 between Cincinnati and Dayton with partner agencies acting as circulators for their respective areas could work. With the number of people using I-75 everyday to commute between cities, I’d think there would be a great opportunity to do closer to a true BRT down a highway shoulder with only maybe 1-2 stops between the two downtowns. It could be an actual alternative to a lot of people who hop in their cars early every morning to beat the gridlock on I-75.

    • Kevin LeMaster

      But the 74X Colerain drops you off in the middle of the Stone Creek Towne Center parking lot? That’s not convenient? 🙂

    • I’d love for someone to TRY and walk from the Olive Garden pod at Stones Town to the Chipotle at North Gate. Bring grandma and the kids! That ought to be a litmus test for every transit stop…

    • Brian Boland

      I hear a lot about BRT, but short of creating a dedicated ROW I think it won’t work. Not to mention that transit in the median–BRT or rail or other–doesn’t really have any side benefit. No additional development can happen around it because they are stops along (or in the middle of) the highway and there is no way do develop anything.

      Admittedly I’m a rail person, so I would rather see a rail solution that could link Downtown Cincinnati and Dayton by going through some other communities along the way: Sharonville, Hamilton, Middletown, Franlkin and DT Dayton. Then you could have express runs in the morning and evening, then regular service during the non-rush hours. This could have big side benefits for these communities in terms of redevelopment opportunities. And then you can start to counteract the sprawl.

    • Matt Jacob

      I completely agree with you. Was just pointing out that there’s another way that might be worthwhile for SORTA to consider in its suburban expansion, which might one day help show the viability of a full-fledged light rail line between these two merging cities.

    • matimal

      Yes, the suburban industrial complex radically changed the American landscape. Now that it’s grip on America is fading, we have a chance to change the direction of development. We can’t change the past.

    • You nailed it. I say have transit go from one vibrant walkable neighborhood to another vibrant walkable neighborhood. A few suburban commercial corridors (mostly following the old streetcar lines) might be transit served as well. However, all transit service out in the low density sprawl should be eliminated. It’s massively inefficient and a poor return on scarce public investment dollars. Instead of wasting money on suburban transit, land use regulations need to change to create more walkable nodes within the sprawl. If the suburbs don’t want mixed use walkable infill development… then no transit for them. Plain and simple. (That’s an extremely soft sell to suburbanites, by the way.) Let urban neighborhoods get far better service by cutting the marginal suburban routes – win win.

  • Sophia Beter-Totten

    I so loved having the 51 bus here on Fairview Avenue. This bus line was important for the University Community. One of the most important reasons that we selected this community of Fairview to live was that I had a direct connection to my employment. The bus made its loop here at the end of Fairview and proceeded on to the University, Unviersity Hospital, Rookwook and looped in Hyde Park. And came back to Fairview. I can’t express to you enough
    t that this bus is so missed by someone who relied solely on the #51.

    • Jules Michael Rosen

      It’s true. Our street was made for transit. I hope the neighborhood circulator they are proposing for Uptown comes down this way.