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.

With many cities no longer interested in hosting mega events, what’s the future for the Olympics and World Cup?

Cincinnati make an unlikely bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics. The Queen City lost out to a number of other American cities that became the finalists for the U.S. selection, which ultimately put New York City in the running against a host of global competitors. Those days of heated competition to host the games, however, may be over. More from CityLab:

If the U.S. bid had gone to D.C., San Francisco, or Los Angeles, critics would have rallied against the Games in those cities the same way they did in Boston. Support for the Games was bound to fall in the wake of an actual bid, as critics sought to expose the high costs or unpractical plans that usually attach themselves to these mega-events.

I don’t see how a U.S. city will ever again host the Olympic Games. Or a World Cup, for that matter. (We’re stuck with the Super Bowl, though.) While mega-events could help cities in Western nation accomplish good things, the participation of authoritarian states is driving the Olympics and the World Cup toward extreme costs and extravagance.

Recent string of deaths on our roadways illustrates need for Vision Zero policy

There have been a string of deaths on our region’s roadways this year. In several cases, including one last week that involved the death of a 12-year-old girl in Colerain Township, have come as a result of deadly roadway design. In this particular instance, cars often travel at fast speeds and there are few crosswalks made available to people walking. In March it was a deadly stretch of roadway in Florence that led to a person losing control of their car and killing a grandfather and his two toddler grandchildren as they attempted to walk along a road with no sidewalks.

In Los Angeles, a city that has become infamous for being car-dominated, the city’s mayor is looking to improve the situation. Some local leaders are also calling for a so-called Vision Zero policy agenda that works aggressively toward designing streets and crafting public policy in a way to eliminate such deaths. More from the Los Angeles Times:

Los Angeles is in many respects a terrible place to be a pedestrian. That’s in large part because we have engineered our streets to function like highways, widening them over the decades at the expense of sidewalks, which are so anemic in some places that telephone poles and other utilities block them. We’ve made it easy to drive on Sepulveda Boulevard or Sunset Boulevard as an alternative to the 405 or the 101, and, as a result, made it dangerous to traverse those streets by foot.

The city’s lack of regard for pedestrians is nowhere more apparent than in the shortage of marked crosswalks. Although technically pedestrians have the right of way at any intersection, drivers don’t generally slow down or look around unless there’s paint on the ground. Is there anything more frustrating for a pedestrian than arriving at a corner without white lines? You have to choose between risking your life by darting across the street and walking out of your way in the hope of finding a safe crossing nearby.

EXCLUSIVE: Donald Shoup Talks Parking Policy, OTR Permit Fees With UrbanCincy

Donald ShoupIn advance of his lecture Tuesday at the Mercantile Library, UrbanCincy was able to get an exclusive interview with Dr. Donald Shoup to discuss a variety of issues ranging from Cincinnati’s own parking management efforts, the controversial OTR Parking Permit proposal and how parking reform is changing with the emergence of ride sharing services.

The digital interview took place on Thursday, October 23 and included the following discussion.

John Yung: Last year the City of Cincinnati almost committed to leasing its parking meters and some garages to a private corporation (Xerox) for a lump sum payment and yearly revenue for 40 years. What are your thoughts on cities attempting to lease or sell their parking assets to generate revenue?

Donald Shoup: Like burning all the furniture to stay warm on a cold night, selling a city’s parking meters for an upfront payment to cover current operating expenses is a bad idea. Some cities are considering more farsighted parking contracts that share the annual revenue rather than maximize the upfront payment. A contract with a professional operator who meets performance pricing goals and shares the resulting revenue with the city can give the city two big advantages: a well-managed parking system and a perpetual stream of income.

For example, a city can require its private contractor to set meter rates that keep the curb occupancy rate between 75% and 95% on every block for at least a certain number of hours every day, with penalty payments for failure to meet the occupancy goal. If professional operators can manage parking more effectively and at lower cost than cities can, private contracts with performance goals can be a good deal for almost everyone.

Xerox already manages the prices for on-street parking in downtown Los Angeles, and the program is a great success. Charging the right prices for curb parking produced some surprising benefits. The Express Park program showed that many meters had been overpriced, especially in the morning. During the program’s first year, 59% of the meter prices decreased and only 29% increased. Average meter prices fell by 11% and average parking occupancy increased by 17%. Total meter revenue increased by 2.5%. Parking reform is working well in Los Angeles.

Yung: Cincinnati political leadership is currently looking at increasing meter rates, hours and implementing a residential parking plan for Over-the-Rhine, a neighborhood that is next to the central business district. The residential permits are proposed to be $300 a year, which will be the highest permit price for on-street parking permits in the country if implemented. The neighborhood is very walkable; however, many employment centers and retail destinations are not very accessible by transit therefore many residents of OTR still have to drive.

Do you think that this is a fair market price for a neighborhood in a city like Cincinnati where approximately 10% of the population utilize some form of alternative transportation?

Shoup: The proposed price of $300 a year for a residential parking permit seems chosen to generate revenue rather than to manage parking. It is less than $1 a day, but an on-street parking permit may not be worth even that low price to some residents. I would instead aim for the fair market price, which means the price at which demand equals the available supply.

Yung: The city is currently in the midst of a zoning code rewrite and the topic of parking requirements is up for debate. Last year the city eliminated parking requirements in the CBD and OTR; however, there is little appetite from city leaders and planners to expand the effort to other areas.

In discussions, some developers advocated for parking requirements as a way to protect on-street parking impacts around the University of Cincinnati and other high-traffic commuter areas. They argue that there are not enough parking options in the area and other developers, eager to cut costs by cutting out parking if the requirement is eliminated, would incidentally create more demand for scarce on-street spots for students and visitors.This is similar to a debate in Portland regarding high-density apartments. What would your response to this be? Are there instances where you think parking requirements would need to be preserved?

Shoup: If Cincinnati uses fair market prices to manage on-street parking – the lowest prices that will leave on or two open spaces on every block at every time of the day – it won’t have to require off-street parking spaces for every land use. If the government regulated any other aspect of our lives as precisely as it regulates the number of off-street parking spaces everywhere, everyone would join the Tea Party.

Yung: Futurist seems to be talking about driverless cars as a way to streamline commutes for suburbanites however there is also some discussion on utilizing them as a automated taxi service in cities. What are your thoughts on driverless cars and what do you think their impacts will be on cities and parking reform?

Shoup: I don’t think driverless cars will have a big impact on cities during my lifetime. I do think that Uber, Lyft, Zipcar and the like are already having a big impact.

Yung: Can you elaborate on how car sharing services are impacting the parking demand market in cities?

Shoup: Uber, Lyft, and Zipcar reduce parking demand because they can substitute for a second car or even a first car for some families. Several studies of carsharing services like Zipcar have found that each shared car replaces between 9 and 13 privately owned cars because carshare members reduce the number of cars they own or avoid buying a car as a result of joining. Here is the link to a recent article about how carsharing reduces vehicle ownership and thus parking demand. And here is the link to another article about how dedicating an on-street parking space for a shared car reduces the demand for car ownership and thus parking demand.

Yung: SFpark has been widely discussed as a success in national urban blogs. Do you think this system is the ideal model for ensuring demand driven market pricing for parking in cities? Are there any suggestions that you would make to change or improve this system?

Shoup: SFpark, San Francisco’s new pricing program, aims to solve the problems created by charging too much or too little for curb parking. If the price is too high and many curb spaces remain open, nearby stores lose customers, employees lose jobs, and governments lose tax revenue. If the price is too low and no curb spaces are open, drivers who cruise to find an open space waste time and fuel, congest traffic, and pollute the air. SFpark bases the price adjustments purely on observed occupancy.

Planners cannot reliably predict the right price for parking on every block at every time of day, but they can use a simple trial-and-error process to adjust prices in response to occupancy rates. This process of adjusting prices based on occupancy is often called performance pricing. Beyond managing the on-street supply, SFpark helps to depoliticize parking by setting a clear pricing policy.

San Francisco charges the lowest prices possible without creating a parking shortage. Transparent, data-based pricing rules can bypass the usual politics of parking. Because demand dictates the prices, politicians cannot simply raise them to gain more revenue. Here is the link to a short article that explains SFpark.

Immediately after conducting this interview with Dr. Shoup, it was revealed that many recently constructed parking garages in Portland, as required by law, are now sitting mostly empty.

Dr. Donald Shoup’s lecture at the Mercantile Library will take place tomorrow at 6pm. The Mercantile Library is located less than a block south of Government Square and is accessible by a plethora of Metro Bus routes. It is also located near the Fountain Square Cincy Red Bike station.

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.”