PHOTOS: Cincinnati Bell Connector Gives 50,000 Rides Opening Weekend

The much-awaited Cincinnati Bell Connector opened to the public on Friday, September 9, and gave over 50,000 rides during its grand opening three-day weekend.

Councilwoman Amy Murray, who serves as Chair of the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee, hosted the grand opening ceremony at Washington Park. In addition to Murray, there were 12 speakers including current and former politicians, transit officials, and business leaders. Many of the speakers thanked the streetcar supporters who kept the project going over the years as it faced obstacle after obstacle. Several used the opportunity to call for an expansion of the system, with former mayor Mark Mallory saying that it’s not a question of “if,” but “when” and “where” the streetcar goes next.

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After the first five ceremonial rides, the Connector opened to the public around noon. It was free to ride all weekend thanks to donations from Believe in Cincinnati, streetcar manufacturer CAF, Cincinnati Bell, Fred Craig, the Haile Foundation, and Joseph Automotive Group. Each station was staffed with volunteers who helped inform riders about the how the system works, where it goes, and how to pay your fare after the start of revenue service. Additionally, a number of special events and activities took place place near each of the streetcar stations, ranging from DJs to ballet dancers to sidewalk chalk artists. Many businesses along the route offered special streetcar-themed food, drinks, and merchandise.

The system initially opened with four out of the five streetcars in service, but the fifth was put into service around 4 p.m. on Friday and all five continued to operate for the remainder of the weekend. The system operated at nearly maximum capacity all weekend, with lines of people waiting to board at each station.

Unfortunately, the system was forced to close on Saturday afternoon due to a bomb threat. The threat, which appears to be connected to similar threats made over the weekend at the Cincinnati Zoo and two local high school football games, was not believed to be credible, but the system was closed down as a precautionary measure. After a bomb-sniffing dog searched all five streetcars and found nothing, they were put back in to service.

Despite this setback, the system transported passengers on 18,141 trips on Friday, 17,160 on Saturday, and 15,345 on Sunday, for a grand total of 50,646 trips during the grand opening.

After the free weekend, revenue service began Monday morning on the Cincinnati Bell Connector. The fare is $1 for a two-hour pass, or $2 for an all-day pass. No streetcar-specific monthly pass is available, but a monthly Metro pass includes rides on the streetcar as well as Metro buses. Tickets can be purchased at kiosks at each station, or using the Cincy EZRide app which is now available in the iOS App Store and Google Play.

  • Jasomm

    Can anyone give a brief recap of what Cranley had to say? I havent found a recap anywhere, and cant imagine what he possibly could have to say there. I feel like he should have been kept away from the ceremonies.

    • Cranley kept it short (most of the speakers only got 3 minutes although several went over). The most interesting thing was that he took credit for getting the operating hours shifted later in the evening so that people can use it to go to restaurants and bars. He thanked “the taxpayers” for footing the bill for the project. He said that visitors will be excited to take the streetcar through a revitalized Downtown and Over-the-Rhine although he was careful not to give the streetcar any of the credit for that revitalization. And he mentioned that he bought one of the commemorative tokens.

    • SC

      So politicking like usual huh? He got us later hours since he threatened to cut them in the first place.

    • Jasomm

      thanks

  • Matt Jacob

    Now that the free weekend has passed, when is SORTA going to get their act together and offer an unlimited streetcar only pass?

    Many people have commemorative tokens or founders club cards to get them through the first weeks/month or two, but when they run out, what is a regular streetcar rider suppose to realistically do? $70/month for an unlimited streetcar/bus combo pass is unrealistic for riders that aren’t planning on leaving the basin such as CBD/OTR residents or even downtown workers. It’s cheaper to pay $2/day than this current monthly pass, yet it’s super inconvenient to pay every day at the kiosk (and the hassle of paying every day via their app isn’t much better). If you want to build sustained core ridership, you’ve got to make it convenient for your riders to pay once and use at will while also keeping it reasonably priced. SORTA isn’t doing this yet.

    At $70/mo SORTA’s combo pass is competitive with $100/mo+ parking spaces that many downtown employers in Cincinnati routinely give away to their employees as a perk. Many downtown employers are oblivious to the amount of money they could save if they encouraged their workers to use our bus system instead. It also gives employees that have to pay for their own parking a better alternative. (The key point in both cases being that this is only a true alternative or perk if the bus system can actually get the employee close enough to their home to make it worth switching, which many times is not true right now).

    However, if SORTA doesn’t get it’s act together it’s going to miss an entirely separate ridership segment by not offering a streetcar-only pass for cheaper than the $2/day or $60/mo hassle rate. Downtown workers only want a pass to go out for lunch or shuttle to their cars. Downtown and OTR residents don’t plan on leaving the basin. All they want to do is circulate, which is all the streetcar is right now. Many of them would buy an unlimited pass just for convenience sake. It’s like a gym membership or a Red Bike annual membership in that most people don’t use it everyday but they are willing to pay for the everyday access. They become the base riders that sustains the system (the “season ticket holders” if you will in sports terms) while you make your money on the new riders that they introduce into the system at the $2/day rate. Eventually they also become the riders that take transit first and probably upgrade to the full streetcar/bus combo pass later.

    PS Great pictures, Travis. The SSOM one was my favorite.

    • I have been hearing this question a lot recently. Another benefit of a monthly streetcar-only pass is that people sign up for a recurring monthly pass and many people can get transit passes from their employer using pre-tax income. I think the city and SORTA did not want to offer a streetcar-only pass because they want to emphasize that it’s all one system. If they offered a streetcar-only monthly pass that was $60 (the same cost as 30 all-day passes) would you buy it? How cheap than the system-wide Metro pass would it have to be to encourage people to buy it?

    • Jesse

      I don’t think its realistic to base the pricing on what 30 day passes would cost. Even people who live and work downtown would feel ripped off. What about days they don’t go far enough to want to ride. What if they go out of town for a week?

      Portland charges $2 for a two hour pass. A single trip downtown could easily cost you $4 in streetcar fares. But their monthly pass is only $40. If you commit to an annual pass they’ll throw in a whole month free. They’ve been doing this for a while. They know people will buy passes at that price point.

      If we get such a pass (and we REALLY should) Maybe price ours a bit cheaper since Portland’s system is more extensive. Maybe $30? That would work out roughly to 5 day passes a week plus a bonus week for free.

      That price would be a big discount for people who actually do ride it every day but so what? Why not reward them. Frequent but not everyday riders wouldn’t feel that SORTA is ripping them off. You might even get people who would only end up spending $20- or so a month on day passes to cough up the extra money for the convenience of not having to deal with tickets.

      Maybe we could really shake things up and follow Portland’s lead in offering annual passes at a discount, $330 assuming the monthly is $30. Downtown employers could offer free annual passes as unique perk.

    • Matt Jacob

      Based on what Jessie mentioned about Portland, it boils down to daily rates of $4.00 (or possibly more) if you buy daily, $1.33 if you buy monthly, and $1.22 if you buy annually. No wonder they are getting a lot of riders that are committed to the long-term sustainability of their system with this sloping incentive curve to buy more.

      It’s the classic sales pitch of “get twice the savings if you buy double” where you still end up spending more money overall. Since the time they are really selling is perishable, even selling for a lower average price is worthwhile vs overcharging and letting it pass with no revenue collected for that period.

      Based on the commemorative passes that SORTA has already sold, they are sitting at daily rates of $2.00 if you buy daily, $1.43 if you buy weekly, and then $1.67 if you buy half-monthly, monthly, or bimonthly. They are sitting at $2.00 if you buy the SC/bus combo monthly pass. So basically they have a gullying incentive curve that makes the $10 token the best deal by far and actually disincentivizes you to buy for longer periods and commit to transit. Someone needs to get a clue there.

      At these rates you’d presume that they would charge $50-43/mo to keep in line with their other fares. If you wanted to follow Portland’s lead, they would charge $40/mo and $440/year. Given that this is Cincinnati and that the CPI of our region is well below Portland and the national average, I don’t think you can charge that much though.

      My gut was somewhere between $25-35 (with $40 being a stretch) before I dug into the numbers. I think Jesse’s suggestion of $30/mo and $330/year is probably the way to go.

    • Matt Jacob

      You are right about the pre-tax benefits (I would have mentioned it but my post was starting to ramble). As an example, last year I got my employer to trade my “free” parking space downtown that they provide to other employees (and actually costs them $100/mo+) for an $80 annual Red Bike membership. It saved the company at least $1,120 per year and gave me unlimited Red Bike access 24/7/365. I’d like to renegotiate to also add on an annual streetcar pass, but it doesn’t exist yet and paying $2/day is too cumbersome to do it.

    • Jesse

      I just ran across an old Business Courier story that addressed monthly passes. It mentioned some concern about streetcar only passes running afoul of federal regulations by segregating one group of riders from everyone else. If I remember correctly from my time in Portland, I think their streetcar is separate from Tri-Met (Their regional transit agency). I wonder if concerns about those regulations is why they set it up that way.

      I don’t know what the regulations are but it seems like they would be easy to get around. SORTA could define a new downtownOTR only zone and offer cheap monthly passes that worked on both buses and the streetcar.

      The SORTA rep in the article mentioned something about streetcar only passes costing roughly the same as a monthly metro pass should they be made available. That’s $70, clearly an insane asking price.

      I’m disappointed in SORTA’s dismissive attitude toward the streetcar pass idea. Combined with their recent squabble over $20,000 to run extra cars for Oktoberfest, it makes you think they still don’t fully grasp what the streetcar is supposed to do.

      Back to those federal regulations, another way to get around them would be for the city to work directly with the company that operates the streetcar instead of going through SORTA. If they continue to treat the streetcar like a distraction form their “real” job and show no interest in addressing streetcar rider’s needs maybe that would be the way to go.

      That same business courier article included an, admittedly very non-scientific, poll that showed 92% approval for streetcar only passes. I don’t see how SORTA can simply brush off something that obviously has a very high level of support.