Metro’s Bus, Streetcar Services Providing Ample Options For Bengals’ Home Opener

Town Center Garage Streetcar RouteThe Bengals will host their first home game of season this Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium. A capacity crowd is expected to fill the stands, and city leaders are looking to provide a variety of options for fans to easily get to and from the game safely.

One of those options includes the newly opened Cincinnati Bell Connector. Operating from the northern reaches of Over-the-Rhine to The Banks – just two blocks from Paul Brown Stadium – the streetcar vastly expands the reach of those walking to the game from their home or from their car.

As such, City Hall is offering a first-of-its-kind parking special at the Town Center Garage on Central Parkway. Located within two blocks of two different streetcar stations, parking at Town Center Garage will be offered for just $10 on game days; and the first 100 cars will receive four free streetcar passes.

“The Town Center Garage is a natural extension of game day parking options, and its proximity to two streetcar stops makes it a natural fit for fans looking to save money and avoid game day traffic,” said Oscar Bedolla, Director of Cincinnati’s Department of Community and Economic Development.

City officials are encouraging fans to come early on game day to enjoy all the offerings along the Cincinnati Bell Connector route, including the tailgate party at The Banks, watch party on Fountain Square and numerous bars, restaurants and shops throughout Over-the-Rhine.

“What we are looking to do here is take full advantage of the link that the Cincinnati Bell Connector offers from Over-the-Rhine to Downtown, to the benefit of football fans,” Parking Division Manager Daniel Fortinberry said in a prepared statement. “We see this as a fun way for fans to get to and from the game.”

The first weekend the streetcar was open saw more than 50,000 riders take advantage of free service. The second weekend, which coincided with Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, saw more than 29,000 riders pay to ride the Cincinnati Bell Connector. With large crowds expected at the Bengals game and MidPoint Music Festival, another large number of riders is anticipated for this weekend.

In addition to the parking special and streetcar service, Metro has again partnered with Miller Lite to offer free rides on Metro bus service from 7am to midnight this Sunday.

While the special partnership is an effort to cut back on drunk driving, it also offers Cincinnatians a good chance to check out Metro bus service for free – not just going to the game, but anywhere on Metro’s regional system.

“As a transit system, the safety of our customers is always our top priority,” said Dwight Ferrell, Cincinnati Metro CEO & General Manager. “Thanks to Miller Lite, Bengals fans will now be able to enjoy the game even more by letting Metro be their designated driver with free rides to and from the stadium.”

The Bengals (1-1) will take on the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos (2-0) this Sunday at 1pm along the central riverfront at Paul Brown Stadium.

Running Time Adjustments Go Into Effect For 9 Express Metro Routes on Monday

Following the re-routing of numerous express bus routes through the central business district earlier this year, Metro is now also making minor running time adjustments to many of these same routes.

The changes will go into effect on Monday, June 20, and will impact Metro’s express routes to Tri-County (23X), Mt. Lookout (25X), Milford (29X), Montana (40X), West Chester (42X), Sharonville (67), Kings Island (71X), Delhi (77X) and Eastgate (82X).

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority did not offer an explanation for the changes, but it is normal for the transit agency to make adjustments such as this in order to improve efficiencies or avoid service conflicts.

Commuters looking to adjust their schedules to the new timetables can do so by viewing the new schedules on Metro’s website, or by using one of the real-time transit data apps now available to Cincinnati-area bus riders.

Metro, Uber Ink Deal Aimed at Addressing First and Last Mile Connections for Transit Riders

Business leaders from Uber and transit officials with the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority gathered yesterday to announce a new partnership between the region’s largest transit provider and the increasingly omnipresent ridesharing service.

As part of the partnership, Metro will place interior transit cards on buses advertising a unique code that will offer a free ride to first-time Uber users. While the deal is similar to Uber’s many other marketing relationships, it may be the first step toward greater collaboration between the two organizations.

“Many of our customers have expressed their interest in using rideshare services like Uber in conjunction with their Metro trip to bridge the gap between service hours and locations,” Metro CEO & General Manager Dwight A. Ferrell said in a prepared release.

In other cities, like Dallas and Atlanta, Uber has partnered with regional transit agencies to integrate their mobile app with the route planning offered within the transit agency’s app. However, these relationships have been critiqued for what being a lopsided arrangement favoring the fast-growing tech company.

Other partnerships looking to address the first mile, last mile challenge have so far struggled to amount to much, but this has not stopped transit officials in Minneapolis and Los Angeles from inking deals to cover trip costs on Uber as part of their respective guaranteed ride home programs.

Such issues, however, are not deterring Metro officials from looking at the potential upsides that might come out of the partnership.

“We’ve seen the significant success Uber has had with other major public transit providers,” Ferrell stated. “We believe Uber is an ideal partner to help us meet the needs of our customers, ultimately making their experience as convenient and enjoyable as possible.”

If the partnership is successful, it could create significant value for Metro riders and help tackle one of the most difficult challenges facing transit agencies throughout North America – how to get riders to and from transit stations without the use of a personal automobile. Eliminating such a problem would allow many people to significantly reduce their reliance on a personal automobile, or eliminate it altogether.

Uber and Public Transit Pairing [FiveThirtyEight]

“Cincinnatians are already combining Uber and Metro to reach their destinations and we are excited to partner to spread the word further that Uber is an option to take Metro riders that ‘Last Mile,’” said Casey Verkamp, general manager of Uber Cincinnati.

Verkamp and Ferrell are right in being optimistic about the potential. An analysis by FiveThirtyEight found that people the combined cost of public transit and Uber becomes more cost effective than owning a personal automobile when the person uses public transit for approximately 85% of their trips and Uber for the rest.

With the average household making 2,000 trips annually, that equates to roughly 300 Uber trips per year. Of course, the average Cincinnatian takes far fewer than 1,700 trips per year on public transit, so a fully functioning arrangement of this kind would be hugely beneficial for both Uber and Metro. The main problem in Cincinnati is that the vast majority of people living in the region are not well-served by transit, and are essentially unable to take 85% of their annual trips by public transit.

Nevertheless, this is the first partnership of its kind in Ohio. While its limited scope leaves much unanswered about how it will benefit area transit riders over the long-term, it does illustrate that Metro officials are thinking about the future of how to move people effectively and efficiently throughout the region.

“This partnership exemplifies how cities like Cincinnati are embracing innovation and creative solutions to meet the needs of their residents,” Verkamp concluded.

Metro To Break Ground on $1.2 Million Oakley Transit Center Next Summer

At its 2015 State of Metro meeting on Friday, Dwight Ferrell announced that the region’s largest transit agency will be build a new transit center in Oakley, along with a variety of other transit improvements in the immediate area.

The $1.2 million project will get started next summer and be built along the Isben Avenue, just east of Marburg Avenue. The location is in the middle of an area that has been completely transformed over the past two decades, including such projects as Center of Cincinnati and Oakley Station.

The project is part of a larger effort by Metro to overhaul its regional bus system from a traditional hub-and-spoke model, which focused on moving people in and out of the center city, to one that has more flexibility and connects more people, more directly, with job centers throughout the region.

“We are always looking ahead and planning for the future needs of this community,” SORTA Board Chair Jason Dunn said in a prepared statement. “Our goal is to continue to operate efficiently while constantly working to improve service.”

This particular project directly addresses the new vision for Metro by significantly enhancing transit service to an estimated 7,100 jobs in the nearby area, major shopping destinations and the Crossroads megachurch. It also builds on other recent transit hub projects like the Glenway Crossing Transit Center and Uptown Transit District, and the planned Northside Transit Center and Walnut Hills Transit District.

Metro officials say that the Oakley Transit Center will consist of four boarding bays, park-and-ride spaces for commuters, enhanced transit shelters and wayfinding, real-time arrival screens, and a ticketing kiosk like those at Government Square and the Uptown Transit District.

As of now, the improvements made as part of the Oakley Transit Center will immediately improve service for routes 4, 11, 12X, 41 and 51.

While Metro has stated that they are currently short on capital funding for upgrading their fleet, the funds for this project were provided by the Federal Surface Transportation Program, along with some local funds.

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.