Pay-by-Phone Technology Now Available for Cincinnati’s Parking Meters

Smart Meter IdentificationCincinnati city officials announced last week that the more than 4,000 smart parking meters that have been installed throughout the city are now functioning in coordination with a new mobile app payment system.

The announcement fulfills a long-held desire for motorists looking for more convenient ways to pay parking meter fees.

It is expected that such technology will help reduce the amount of tickets that are dolled out since drivers will now be able to refill their meter from anywhere, simply by using their phone. Those without smartphones capable of operating the PassportParking app will also be able to use their phones to reload meters by visiting http://m.ppprk.com, or by calling 513-253-0493.

“This enhancement is part of the City’s ongoing parking modernization plan to improve the quality and efficiency of the City parking system,” officials stated in a prepared release. “In accordance with these efforts parking rates were adjusted earlier this year, and motorists saw the introduction of prepay and extended hours.”

In addition to the convenience for parkers, the new technology also allows for local businesses to register so that they can discount the parking costs for their customers.

While the new technology will make payments easier and more convenient, it does not help motorists locate available on-street parking spaces, or utilize dynamic pricing that would encourage those looking for a parking space to navigate toward a lesser used area.

While dynamic pricing has been mentioned as a future possibility by both Mayor John Cranley (D) and City Manager Harry Black, it has not yet been made clear when that will take place.

“Pay-by-phone parking is representative of what we are doing across our organization. We are using technology to enhance services we offer our residents and visitors,” said City Manager Black. “This technology won’t replace more traditional means of paying to park at a meter, but it gives people a new, convenient option that makes visiting Downtown or business districts across Cincinnati easier.”

The mobile payment app, which charges a 25-cent convenience fee, will only work for on-street parking meters and kiosks – not off-street lots or garages. In order to properly use the system, drivers will be asked to input the zone, along with the meter number, into the application so that the payment can be traced to that particular space, and thus monitored by parking enforcement officers.

All of this comes after the contentious cancellation of the parking lease agreement put into place by Mark Mallory‘s administration in 2013.

Under that agreement, the City would have leased its on-street parking meters, along with a number of garages and lots, to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, which then was to enter into operation agreement with Xerox. In return, the City would have received a large upfront payment, along with guaranteed annual payments.

The new structure maintains more control at City Hall, but it misses on the upfront capital, along with the guaranteed payments.

Instead, the City takes on the risk of meeting revenue projections and keeping operation and maintenance costs within their targets. One thing that remains the same is the presence of Xerox, although their role appears to have been greatly diminished from what it would have been under the Mallory administration deal.

So far the response to the new parking meters and payment functionality has been positive, although some neighborhood business districts, where the meters are arriving for the first time, have experienced some temporary glitches with pricing and hours of operation programmed into the meter.

Car-Sharing Could Reduce Costs, Improve Efficiency of Cincinnati’s Vehicle Fleet

When a brother and sister are fighting over the same toy, a parent quickly steps in and teaches the children to take turns and share.

Now that Over-the-Rhine parking is at a premium, and the residential permit plan has been vetoed, the residents of OTR are going to have to find a way to share parking, or risk losing more of the historic neighborhood to parking lots and garages. Sharing also presents an opportunity when it comes to modernizing the City of Cincinnati’s fleet of 2,149 vehicles.

Mayor John Cranley (D) received unanimous support for this year’s budget, which includes $110 million to make much-needed upgrades to the City’s fleet and roadways over the next six years. While some vehicles, like those for police and fire, cannot be shared, others certainly can; and by implementing a program like Zipcar’s FastFleet program, Cincinnati would benefit from significant savings and operating efficiencies.

In 2012, an internal audit of the Fleet Services Division found that fleet management has been “unwieldy” and mentioned that a knowledgeable and empowered staff is needed to properly manage the system. This has proven difficult over the past decade due to a severe cut in funding for the department in 2003.

“Almost the entire management team left the department near the end of 2007 and was not replaced,” the internal audit noted. “While the staff operates to the best of their abilities, they are undermanned without the resources to correct the inertia of the department.”

The Fleet Services Division operates under the Public Services Department, and controls and maintains 2,149 motorized vehicles for various departments at City Hall. These departments pay $63 an hour for maintenance and repair of the vehicles and are allocated a portion of the capital budget based on their proportion of need with regards to their percentage of obsolete fleet.

In 2011 Fleet Services was allocated $4,301,900 in capital dollars and $5,240,600 was allocated for 2012. These numbers are expected to rise as soon as the approved budget is published on July 1, but more money for new vehicles is only part of the solution. The 2012 audit also recommended reducing the size of the fleet, evaluating underutilized equipment, and examining the cost of leasing sedans and light trucks.

With services like FastFleet, City Hall could optimize its fleet without degrading operations, thus lowering maintenance and administrative costs.

FastFleet works by tracking vehicle usage by employees through GPS monitoring systems. This enables the service to produce real-time data, with recommendations on synergy and optimization. Once this data is analyzed, car assignments can be reorganized to allow for sharing of each vehicle by city employees, ultimately allowing for more efficient usage of vehicles.

In Washington D.C., city officials there were able to benefit from $6 million in savings over a five-year period by eliminating more than 200 administrative vehicles from their fleet. While Cincinnati’s fleet is smaller than the nation’s capital, proportional savings are safe to be assumed.

With City Hall poised to invest millions into its fleet operations, now is the perfect time to look into a solution such as this that could potentially reduce the City’s fleet, while also improving its performance.

A program could even be put in place to allow for public use of the vehicles, akin to the city’s existing Zipcar system, when city employees are not in need of the fleet. The revenue collected from these services could then be used to offset the public’s cost of maintaining the city’s fleet, while also expanding car-sharing services to other neighborhoods outside of the city center.

As it stands now, the City of Cincinnati does not even know what the optimal size is for its vehicle fleet. Tracking the performance of the fleet and analyzing the data will help bring clarity to the matter, and allow for the fleet to perform more efficiently.

Implementing a vehicle sharing program for Cincinnati’s municipal fleet would help save additional taxpayer dollars, improve operations and bolster car-sharing throughout the city.

EDITORIAL NOTE: Chad Schaser contributed to this article.

Uptown Neighborhoods Have Outsized Role in Regional Economy

Data released by the UC Economic Center shows that Cincinnati’s uptown neighborhoods – Avondale, Clifton, Corryville, Clifton Heights, Fairview, University Heights, and Mt. Auburn – contribute heavily to the regional economy.

Commissioned by the Uptown Consortium, a non-profit dedicated to development in the area, the collection of neighborhoods actually have an outsized influence on the regional economy.

According to the study, uptown houses more than 800 businesses that collectively employ around 52,000 employees and contribute more than $3 billion in annual wages in the Cincinnati Metropolitan Statistical Area. For the City of Cincinnati, the area represents 18.2% of all income tax collections taken in by City Hall.

These statistics are buoyed by the fact that the area also has one of the fastest growing job rates in the region. From 2012 to 2013, uptown neighborhoods saw employment rise by 12%, while growth throughout the rest of the city stood at 0.2%, and the rest of Hamilton County at 0.7%. All of this growth has led to a building boom that is changing uptown’s image.

Furthermore, the UC Economic Center found that while average city-wide property taxes collected per acre held averaged $8,000, while in the uptown area that figure stood at an average of $14,000 per acre.

This economic impact is driven mostly by what the report refers to as anchor institutions – education, healthcare, and social assistance agencies. These types of employers make up a large portion of the city economy, but particularly so uptown. Overall, these types of employees make up 16.3% of the city’s total workforce, and contribute around $98 million in city income taxes and $17 million in Hamilton County sales taxes annually.

All told, they account for 7.8% of the Cincinnati MSA’s gross regional product.

The report also demonstrates that, in addition to the direct economic impact of anchor institutions, they also draw considerable indirect impact from the money injected into the local economy.

While the institution and what are referred to as their auxiliary businesses are a boon for the regional economy at the moment, an over reliance on them could be dangerous.

As the Economic Center stated, “were the University of Cincinnati to close, much of the economic activity in Uptown would leave the region.”

Physical Redevelopment of Cincinnati Also Reinvigorating Local Art Community

Everyone has heard about the craft beer movement and the desires for locally sourced food, but Cincinnati is also experiencing a similar renaissance in the art community.

The Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) has become well-known for the work they are doing to redevelop the city’s historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. Their work has created hundreds of new residences and dozens of new shops. Perhaps lesser known is the fact that many of these residences and shops are being designed and outfitted with custom, local art.

Area businesses have also begun embracing local artists. At Taste of Belgium, owner Jean-Francois Flechet says that they worked with local carpenters and artists to design all the tables, furniture and even the bar itself at their hub restaurant at Twelfth and Vine Streets. They also commissioned a large art installation behind the bar.

Flechet says that they have continued this pattern at their newer store on Short Vine in Corryville, and even more so at their soon-to-open restaurant in Norwood.

“We are working on a really cool installation at Rookwood Exchange with Dan and Steve from Brave Berlin,” Flechet said referring to the two men behind the Lumenocity concept. As such, the installation at the new Taste of Belgium in Rookwood will be of the visual display variety.

“We will have animated projected artwork from three projectors,” he explained. “The artwork will evolve throughout the day and updated on a regular basis. It will be really fun and different.”

One of the more dramatic pieces of commissioned art in the center city is ‘Aluminnati’ at 3CDC’s new offices. There, at Twelfth and Walnut Streets, a massive piece of artwork was commissioned for the office’s two-story space connecting the reception area on the fourth floor to offices above.

“When the design team for 3CDC’s new offices created the grand interior staircase between our two levels, we knew that an original piece of art should grace the two-story wall,” explained Anastasia Mileham, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at 3CDC.

Created by Jeff Welch, the piece is an aluminum topographical sculpture of Cincinnati’s center city – a fitting installation for a development corporation that is solely focused on that geographic area. It was a job Welch says he truly enjoyed, and one that he thinks defines a growing interest in custom artwork.

“I believe they [3CDC] must support local artists if we are to rebuild Cincinnati to the cherished quality level established by our ancestors, who built OTR entirely with local artists and craftsmen,” Welch told UrbanCincy. “My experience with 3CDC is that they are very good at supporting local artists, at least in the capacity of their new headquarters, where they had total control over the project.”

Welch was not the only local artist producing work for the new 3CDC office building, and he believes that the growing interest in Cincinnati for locally produced and original artwork is part of a larger national trend, largely being driven by the Millennial generation.

“I believe there is a definitely a local trend toward commissioned art, design and craft, and I’m banking my future on it,” said Welch. “All the new restaurants, shops and businesses seem to be in a competition to feature local craft, or they are at least assuming that something has to be made local. It’s definitely a trend nationwide and Cincinnati is right on-point.”

In fact, he believes in the movement so much that after relocating to Cincinnati in 2009, he started his own design company called Modularem. It’s a movement that is not just tied directly to art, but the larger identity and culture of the city.

“I had gone to UC for undergrad in the early 2000s and had soaked up a lot of the city’s amazing urban history,” Welch explained. “But when we read about the streetcar project, we were sold. That single project represented so much commitment to progress, and enthusiasm for the future, that we wanted to be part of it.”

While his story is unique, he is certainly not alone. According to Mileham, the changing culture of the city is at the heart of its revival.

“Local art is at the heart of everything our organization believes in, and what this OTR community is about,” Mileham said. “The Italian Renaissance-style buildings we renovate are hand-crafted art, the restaurateurs who start businesses in our commercial spaces are local artists, we program the civic spaces that we manage with original music and local performing arts groups.”

Report Finds Homelessness Is Decreasing in Hamilton County and Cincinnati

A newly released report shows that homelessness in Cincinnati and Hamilton County declined in 2014 to levels not seen since 2010.

The report comes from Strategies to End Homelessness, a local leader of 30 homeless service organizations. Using data from the Homeless Management Information System, the non-profit organization said that they saw positive results all around.

The number of people on the streets, which saw a large jump in 2013, returned to 2011 levels. Those staying in emergency shelters also dropped by 7% since 2012, which officials say can be attributed to the increase in people being served by permanent housing programs, which has increased 167% since 2010.

Local leaders also say that this drop is also partially a result of their member organizations’ homeless prevention efforts, which Kevin Finn, CEO of Strategies to End Homelessness, told UrbanCincy in March is one of the most critical factors in reducing homelessness.

Since 2011, these organizations have seen only 10.2% of the people served by their shelter diversion programs later become homeless. Finn says that preventing people from needing a shelter is not only effective, but it saves money as well.

“Homelessness prevention activities work and at a fraction of the cost of assisting after a person is already homeless,” said Finn. “Stopping people from ever needing to enter a homeless shelter just makes sense.”

The report found that men make up 59% of Cincinnati and Hamilton County’s homeless population, and that some 66% of those that are homeless are black.

One of the national trends is that women and children make up one of the fastest growing segments of the homeless population. In Cincinnati and Hamilton County, the report found that children are 29% of the area’s homeless – 6% of which are children without adult accompaniment. Furthermore, approximately 15% were found to be veterans.

In all, the number of people on the streets, in shelters, or in transitional programs in all of Hamilton County was 7,810 in 2014.

The Cincinnati area received a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant of $15.4 million earlier this year to combat homelessness. This money has not yet been distributed, but once it does, it will be set aside for non-prevention programs.

Local leaders also have reason to be optimistic due to the ongoing investment in new facilities, through Cincinnati’s Homeless to Homes program, to care for the area’s homeless population.

“In 2015, three improved shelters are opening, significantly improving the quality of services being offered to the homeless in our community,” Finn said. “We are also hoping to expand prevention efforts, so that fewer people will have to experience the trauma of homelessness.”