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.”

VIDEO: $86 Million Renovation of Nippert Stadium Nearing Completion

The $86 million renovation and expansion of the University of Cincinnati’s historic Nippert Stadium is nearly complete.

According to project officials, the work is expected to be complete in time for the Bearcats to host their first game back on campus – after a year away at Paul Brown Stadium – in three months.

The latest project video update reveals that virtually all exterior work is now complete, and that crews are now focused on interior finishings, along with some exterior facade treatments. They also note that the dramatic roll-open windows on the press boxes will soon go in, along with the ribbon scoreboards on both the east and west sides of the 114-year-old stadium.

Designed by New York-based Architecture Research Office and Heery International, the modern architectural style continues a trend on UC’s main campus of blending contemporary with historic designs. The large glass facade on the back side of the western concourse will, perhaps, serve as the best example of this as it looms over the historic, yet modern Tangeman University Center and internationally acclaimed UC Main Street.

The new Nippert Stadium will have an increased seating capacity of 40,000, and boast luxury boxes, press suites, new lounges, and a sorely needed expanded offering of restrooms and concessions stalls.

Originally projected to cost between $80-85 million, University officials say that the $86 million project is being funded through private donations and premium seat revenues.

Uptown leaders should copy Buffalo and develop a street-calming plan

Cincinnati’s uptown neighborhoods are experiencing a bit of a boom. Hundreds of residential units are being developed, new transportation infrastructure and capacity is coming online, and smaller, historic buildings are controversially making way for new, taller ones. While significant changes are underway, one thing that remains the same, and seems poised to only get worse as new roadway projects are built, is the fact that most major thoroughfares uptown are inhospitable to people who wish to walk or bike to get around. In Buffalo they have developed a plan to address just that in the city’s historic downtown. A similar plan should be considered for Cincinnati’s second largest employment center. More from Buffalo News:

The new Downtown Infrastructure Master Plan lays out a series of enhancements to key streets, districts and public squares to bolster the appearance and feel of the city center for residents, employees and visitors, while making the downtown more vibrant. At the same time, it seeks to make the area more cohesive and pedestrian-friendly, by improving access and connections. And it calls for traffic calming, more accessible green space and public space, and a “softening” of barriers like highway overpasses.

The goal is to provide a framework for future public-sector investments and projects, using shared objectives in making decisions about where to target new initiatives. But it’s also flexible enough, officials said, so that it can be adapted to tie in new projects to downtown and neighborhoods.

Probasco Urban Farm Looking to Grow Cincinnati’s Local Food Scene Through Mushrooms

Probasco Urban Farm is bringing gourmet mushrooms to restaurants, grocery stores, and farmers markets across the city. The operation is running out of a facility on the edge of Camp Washington and Fairview at 2335 W. McMicken Avenue.

The business, owned by Alan Susarret, was first set up in spring 2013. Ater extended trials Susarret says that he has been able to keep a steady business since this past winter. Technically, though, his mushrooms have been out in the market since fall 2012.

To get things going, he said that he forged partnerships with locally owned businesses like The Littlefield, Quarter Bistro, La Poste, Fond Deli, and Madison’s Grocery.

“Currently I’m supplying Northside Farmer’s Market, Hyde Park Farmer’s Market, and Nectar Restaurant,” Susarret said, “I am also supplying two dozen of Probasco Urban Farm’s own Season Share Members.”

While urban farming has been consistently growing in popularity, it is still in its infancy in Cincinnati. In their case, they grow the mushrooms from long bags that are suspended from the ceiling under fluorescent lights. The floor is covered by wet rocks to keep the area moist and it all gets sprayed down with ordinary water once a day.

Susarret says that they put sawdust and mycelium in the bags to make the mushrooms pop out reaching for fresh air. He says that the mushrooms are even part of the mycelium used in order to spread its spores into new territories.

To keep things natural Probasco Urban Farm rotates materials through quickly and gets a few big crops over shorter periods of time. This allows them to avoid using pesticides; and it’s a way to keep bugs away and ensure lots of fresh air is moving around the mushrooms.

“My current focus is to produce mushroom species that grow quickly and need less initial investment,” Susarret explained. “Though future plans are to grow Shiitake, nearly exclusively, and supply more restaurants and local CSA’s.”

His vision does not end there. Susarret says that he also hopes his business helps to increase the offerings of locally grown food and food sharing systems, like Our Harvest and Urban Greens, starting to take root in the region. The thought is that if more people are getting their food from small businesses, it will have a longer-lasting impact and connection for those buying and supplying the food.

The thought that grocers carry a specific selection of produce that is readily available seven days a week, and has its price heavily influenced by all sorts of things outside of the consumer’s control – fuel costs, freight logistics, union contracts, weather in another city – is something that disturbs Susarret.

“Being a gardener, I know intuitively that there is something special about the basil that you grew on your windowsill and picked yourself,” he explained. “People do care about food; and if I can make a contribution to Cincinnati’s larger food scene, CSA’s, and all the new options out there, then I’m giving something to an interesting and unique culture that we’ve created here.”

Susarret will be teaching a free workshop on ways to grow mushrooms in home gardens at Sayler Park Sustains Festival on June 13. And for those interested, they are also the ones with goats roaming the hillside.