Can Metro, Megabus Come to Terms on Moving the Intercity Bus Operator Into the Riverfront Transit Center?

Following the announcement last week that Megabus would relocate its downtown Cincinnati stop to a parking lot at 691 Gest Street in Queensgate, there has been a new round of public calls for the intercity bus operator to move its stop into the underutilized Riverfront Transit Center.

The move is just the latest in a series of moves after Megabus was forced out of its original stop at Fourth and Race due to construction taking place at Mabley Place, and complaints from neighbors about noise and loitering. Those complaints have since plagued Megabus as it has tried to find a new stop somewhere in the center city.

Perhaps the most troublesome complaint has been allegations of public urination at Megabus stops by their riders. As a result, city leaders have been looking for a more permanent stop location that includes public restrooms. This has led to a number of people to suggest Findlay Market and the Horseshoe Casino, near the existing Greyhound station, as possible locations.

But through all of this there appears to be a growing sentiment that the Riverfront Transit Center be used not only to accommodate Megabus, but all intercity bus operators serving Cincinnati.

“There is, of course, plenty of parking available, and riders can wait in a safe and secure enclosed area, out of the elements and with restrooms available,” stated Derek Bauman, urban development consultant and chairman of Cincinnatians for Progress. “Megabus will benefit by finally having a permanent home that was built for just this purpose.”

In addition to there being plenty of parking nearby, the Riverfront Transit Center, designed to accommodate up to 500 buses and 20,000 passengers per hour, also has plenty of capacity.

Beyond Megabus, there may be an even greater upside for other operators, like Greyhound and Barons Bus, to relocate into the Riverfront Transit Center.

“Greyhound could benefit by moving from and selling its current location near the casino, which would then be ripe for development as a hotel or other higher use. This would also save the company millions in capital dollars to fund needed upgrades and rehab of the current facility.”

As has been noted by Vice Mayor David Mann (D), someone who has served as a leader on trying to find a solution to this problem, there are difficulties with getting Megabus and others into the transit center neatly tucked beneath Second Street.

The Riverfront Transit Center is technically owned by the City of Cincinnati and operated by Metro, which uses the facility Metro*Plus layover, special events and leases some of its east and west aprons for parking. According to transit agency officials, these operations generate approximately $480,000 in annual revenue and net roughly $170,000 in annual profit for Metro.

Therefore, any new operators or changes to this structure would not only present logistical issues, but also potentially negatively affect Metro’s finances unless new revenues are collected – something Megabus has not been particularly keen of thus far.

“It’s our understanding that Megabus pays a fee to share transit facilities in other cities,” Sallie Hilvers, Metro’s Executive Director of Communications, told UrbanCincy. “As a tax-supported public service, Metro would need to recover the increased costs related to maintenance, utilities, security, etc. from Megabus, which is a for-profit company.”

Hilvers also stated that while Metro is open to the idea, that there would also be some legal and regulatory issues that would also need to be addressed.

Nevertheless, the Riverfront Transit Center seems to be the logical place to consolidate intercity bus operators. The facility is enclosed, includes bathrooms, waiting areas, is centrally located and within close proximity to other transportation services such as Government Square, Cincinnati Streetcar and Cincy Red Bike.

“Welcoming visitors to Cincinnati at the RTC at The Banks showcases our city and is much more welcoming than a random street corner in Queensgate outside of downtown,” Bauman emphasized. “This just makes sense, it’s as simple as that. Everyone involved should continue do whatever is necessary to come to an agreement and make it happen.”

EDITORIAL NOTE: Cincinnati Vice Mayor David Mann (D) did not respond to UrbanCincy‘s request for comment on this story.

Is an apartment development at Eighth and Sycamore worthy of public financing?

As was previously teased by Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D), there is the possibility of building a residential mid-rise atop the planned parking garage at Eighth and Sycamore Streets. The developer initially engaged, however, is saying that they will need some gap financing from the City to make it happen. Do you think it’s worth the public investment? More from the Business Courier:

Rick Kimbler, a partner at NorthPointe Group, which is developing the project along with North American Properties and Al Neyer, said the group is trying to assemble financing for the project.

“We don’t have the financing put together, so it’s not really a project yet,” Kimbler said. “We will definitely need some gap filler from the city. There’s no question about that because mid-rise construction downtown is expensive, and the city is straining, trying to be helpful, but their funds are limited.”

Parking Guru Donald Shoup to Speak at Mercantile Library Next Tuesday

Donald Shoup, world renowned economist and researcher, will be speaking at the Mercantile Library on October 28.

For those unfamiliar with his work, he is a forerunner in examining the effects of parking policy on urban economics, which he presented in his 2005 book The High Cost of Free Parking. The book was preceded by an article of the same name, which Shoup wrote in 1997.

Mandated parking requirements, it seemed, was an issue that many planners felt ill-equipped to tackle. It had not been lectured on in their classes, and textbooks were often silent on the matter. And according to the American Planning Association, planners requested information on this topic more than any other.

Mandated minimum parking requirements have been a zoning code staple since the widespread adoption of the automobile. For example, a zoning code may require that apartment buildings supply one parking space per unit, or that a restaurant provide one parking space for every 300 square feet of space used by patrons. While parking minimums are typically set by the use of a property, they vary based on what kind of zoning district the property is found in – for example, a low density, auto-oriented district will require more spaces than a dense area that is more walkable.

As planners wrote their zoning codes, they had few tools at their disposal to discern where they should set their parking minimums, which led to the common practice of borrowing numbers used by other cities that often did not account for local conditions. And as Shoup found, even if planners could observe capacities and usage for, say an office building, not every office building was created equal. An office building that allowed employees their own offices instead of cubicles would have fewer employees per square foot and therefore should conversely be assigned a lower parking spot minimum.

And since minimums were based on the maximum capacity for a particular use, an additional quandary arose from requiring parking that would very certainly sit unused most of the time.

Upon examination of the issue, the numbers used to set minimum parking requirements were considered arbitrary – a best guess, and applied with broad brushstrokes. Therefore, Shoup set out to examine where and how the cost of this imposition on property development was being absorbed.

Analyses were able to estimate how much development costs increase due to parking minimums, and the results bred a new understanding of how parking requirements can increase the cost of real estate, particularly in urban areas. A portion of these costs are presumably passed on to tenants and patrons, regardless of whether they own a car and utilize a parking space.

When applied to denser historic districts built before the automobile, lots frequently are not large enough to provide the amount of spaces that a zoning code may require for parking. The result is a tangible barrier to redevelopment, revitalization and the adaptive reuse of buildings.

Brian Bertha, a researcher in California, analyzed project costs before and after the establishment of parking minimums in 1961 in Oakland. He found that after the requirements were put in place, construction costs per dwelling unit increased 18%, housing density fell by 30%, and land values decreased by 33%.

In Shoup’s research he speculates that if “emancipated from minimum parking requirements, land and capital will shift from parking to uses that employ more workers and pay more taxes.”

Instead he advocates making parking a pay-per use amenity, and thus encourage greater use of public and active transportation. Furthermore, he believes that revenues generated from on-street parking be utilized within neighborhood improvement districts in order to provide more amenities in those districts.

Just as we are taught in economics class that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” Shoup uses his skill for economic analysis to illustrate that there’s no such thing as a free parking space.

Driving is still necessary for ease of accessing employment in most American cities, but Shoup’s analysis allows policy makers to think critically about the interconnectedness of these policies, and the role that a thoughtful approach can play in reducing congestion, decreasing auto-dependence, and removing barriers to investment.

If you would like to attend Dr. Shoup’s lecture, he will be speaking downtown at 6pm at the Mercantile Library at 414 Walnut Street. Tickets can be purchased online for $10 for members and $15 for non-members.

Metro to Begin Selling One-Day Passes in November, Regional Fare Cards Next

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) will begin selling new day passes for Metro bus service on Sunday, November 2.

The new one-day, unlimited ride passes are part of Metro’s ongoing fare payment overhaul that began back in 2011 with the introduction of new electronic fare boxes.

The new day passes will be able to be purchased directly on any Metro bus as you board. Jill Dunne, Public Affairs Manager at Metro, says that all the purchaser will need to do is notify the driver before paying their fares. The pass is then activated upon its first use and will be valid for unlimited rides until 3am the next day.

The passes cost $4.50 for Zone 1, which is anything within city limits, and $6.30 for Zone 2. A pass purchased for either zone accounts for all necessary transfer fees.

Since these day passes will be ideal for visitors, you can also purchase them in advance at the sales office on Government Square. The passes can then be distributed to friends or family members and used at their convenience, only being activated upon their first use.

“Riders have been asking for day passes for several years,” Dunne explained to UrbanCincy. “They are great for visitors, occasional riders and anyone who plans to ride Metro frequently throughout the day without worrying about exact change or transfers.”

In many cities around the world, however, the idea of buying day or month passes is a thing of the past thanks to the advent of smart card payment technology. If Metro were to switch over to a system like this, which their new electronic fare boxes are capable of handling, it would allow for riders to use enabled bank cards or loadable fare cards.

“We are looking at all options for fares to make it convenient for our riders,” Dunne emphasized. “We have been working on ‘smart cards’ for a while and I hope we’d be able to roll them out in the future.”

Another new feature riders can soon expect, and has been rumored for some time, is a regional stored-value card that works on transit services offered by Metro and the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK). Metro officials say they are optimistic that will be available within the next few months.

Those interested in getting their hands on the new day passes can do so by attending a ceremony Metro will hold at Government Square on Monday, November 3 at 10am. To celebrate the moment, Metro employees and SORTA board members will be giving out 500 free day passes on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Rapidly Growing Cincybite to Expand Delivery Area and Service Offerings

Just about a year ago, a new food delivery service entered the Cincinnati market. The idea behind it was one not uncommon in other larger urban centers around the country, but was new to the area.

While it can be simple to get sandwiches, pizza, or Chinese food delivered locally, that tends to be the limit of your options. But Robbie Sosna, who had lived Miami, New York City and Los Angeles after growing up in Blue Ash, knew the city could do better. So he launched Cincybite last December.

What Cincybite does is partner with area restaurants to deliver their regular menu items to hungry customers around the city. Sosna said they first started with just six restaurant partners and delivered only during dinner time in the center city. However, after a strong start, Cincybite quickly added lunch delivery options and added an additional seven restaurant partners within two weeks after their initial launch.

The early success of the business is yet another example of the retail services not keeping pace with the city’s population growth. While the age-old idea of ‘retail follows rooftops’ may still be true, technology is also now allowing some of that to be bypassed through innovative on-demand delivery services.

“In New York and LA there were restaurant delivery services, and I was surprised to find none existed in town,” Sosna explained. “The response has been phenomenal and I’m working hard to expand the service through the metro area.”

This is not his first foray into the food industry. In 2009, he purchased his first Freshii franchise in Los Angeles before ultimately moving those operations to Cincinnati and bringing the popular fresh food chain to the region in 2012.

Cincybite’s offices are located downtown and are currently staffed by six employees who are tracking all sorts of data and usage patterns. The data they are collecting, Sosna says, is what is helping them determine what other restaurants to approach, types of food to add, and which areas to expand to next.

One area that has not yet been officially added to Cincybite’s delivery area is the city’s west side neighborhoods, but they say it is only a matter of time, and drivers, before that happens. As for now, the focus remains on the region’s center city neighborhoods and many on the city’s east side and along the I-71 corridor.

“When looking at future areas of growth, my director of ops and I study our current sales data and customer feedback,” Sonsa explained. “We’re looking at strengthening our variety of restaurants in our current zones and planning our growth north.”

When asked where those next areas of operations might be, he said that they are looking at Kenwood, Madeira, Blue Ash, Montgomery and Indian Hill, but also clarified that Cincybite has unofficially also begun serving the west side.

Growing Cincybite’s delivery area and food options is just the beginning of the company’s overall growth plans. They have just launched a new service that offers delivery of basic grocery items and other incidentals like batteries, cleaning products, toiletries, over the counter medicine, baby food and supplies, and snacks. Likening the service to Amazon Fresh, Sosna says that he is working with a number of other businesses in order to add even more items.

“We’ve had conversations with local pet shops, butcher shops, dessert companies and a variety of other businesses looking to add additional revenue and awareness to their brand,” said Sosna. “There really is no limit for what Cincybite can offer Cincinnati, and we’re working hard to expand the delivery zones so everyone in the city can enjoy.”

Those who want to use the service merely need to register for an account and then shopping as would typically be done with any online retailer. The website also allows customers to select the date and time they would like to have their items delivered, and also allows for the user to pre-select an amount to tip the driver.

But one thing that was made clear was that none of this would be possible for Sosna without the resurgence taking place in Cincinnati. Had it not been for that, he said he may have stayed in Los Angeles instead of coming home.

“The commute back and forth for 2.5 years helped calm my nerves, but as I opened my Freshii location and began spending more time in the city, I realized a lot of progress had been made and the city was headed in the right direction,” Sosna told UrbanCincy.

“The approval of the streetcar, construction of The Banks, revival of OTR, food scene throughout the city, investment in tech with Brandery and Cintrifuse, and GE selecting Cincinnati for their future operations center were just a few of the reasons highlighting how great the city had improved and made the transition all the easier.”