Metro Has Begun Installing New 24-Hour Ticketing Kiosks Throughout City

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) has made a new push to expand ticket and stored-value cards by adding new locations and options for riders to make their purchases.

The first announcement was that Metro would begin selling passes at Cincinnati City Hall, starting April 1, inside the city’s Treasury Department in Room 202. The sales office is open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm, and will offer Zone 1 and 2 Metro 30-day rolling passes, $20 stored-value cards and Metro/TANK passes.

The new location marks the twelfth sales office for Metro including three others Downtown and locations in Walnut Hills, Tri-County, Western Hills, North College Hill, Over-the-Rhine, Roselawn, College Hill and Avondale.

The region’s largest transit agency also installed its first ticket vending machine. The new kiosk is located at Government Square and is available for use 24 hours a day. The machine only accepts cash and credit cards, and offers Metro 30-day rolling passes including Metro/TANK passes, and $10, $20 and $30 stored-value cards.

According to Metro officials, this is the first of more ticketing machines to come with the stations in the Uptown Transit District to be the next locations to get them. Future additions, officials say, will be chosen based on the amount of ridership at given transit hubs throughout the system.

The new sales options come after Metro introduced a new electronic fare payment system in 2011. The new modern options of payment and ticketing proved so popular that after just one year, Metro officials cited the updated technology as one of the primary drivers for its ridership growth.

While the new initiatives show progress for the 41-year-old transit agency, they also show just how far behind the times it is.

The best fare payment systems in the world are tap and go systems that allow riders to charge their cards with whatever value they would like, thus eliminating any confusion of needing specific cards for certain time periods or values. Such cards also allow for perfect interoperability between various modes of transport including bus, rail, ferry, bikeshare and taxi.

In other instances, like Seoul’s T-Money Card and London’s Oyster Card, the systems even allow for the tap and go payment systems to accept credit cards and bank cards enabled with the technology – totally eliminating any barrier for potential riders wary of signing up for a new card they may not use all that often.

Similar to the fare payment cards, the new ticketing machines are outdated on arrival. Transit agencies throughout the United States that have had ticketing machines for years, like Chicago and New York, are currently in the process of transitioning to touch screen kiosks that are more user-friendly.

Episode #25: Summer Update

Overview of Building Exterior

On the 25th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, the UrbanCincy team gets together for an update on the site and several issues affecting the city. We discuss Randy Simes’ proposal for governmental consolidation in Hamilton County; the Dunnhumby Centre and other new architecture in Cincinnati; parking deregulation in the urban core; and transit projects including the new Metro*Plus “pre-BRT” service and the construction of the Cincinnati Streetcar.

One Transit App to Rule Them All

As more people are turning to smartphones to help guide them around cities, app makers are looking into ways to create a transit app that not only provides mass transit directions but also information about the nearest car sharing service and taxi services. This kind of app would serve as a “one-stop shop” for urbanites looking to ditch the expense of owning an automobile and rely entirely on transportation alternatives. More from the Atlantic Cities:

What all of these apps, including taxis, are essentially trying to convince users that they can get to and from work, run errands, meet people for lunch, get to appointments, and do all their other daily tasks without having their own car. RideScout is betting that aggregating all these new transportation options in one place is the best way to make that case to users — which is a win for all transportation disrupters. “If people aren’t pumping $50 into a tank when they fill up, they can transfer that money to taxis, public transportation, and these other options,” Kopser says. “When people make the decision to leave their car at home, we all win — the roads are less clogged, there is less smog, and money is staying in the local economy.”

Nate Wessel aiming to change the way Cincinnati does maps

Maps are used in our everyday lives to help us navigate our cities, perform research, and visualize spatial data, but Nate Wessel has attempted to change the way Cincinnatians view such information.

In June 2011, Wessel started a modest Kickstarter campaign that would raise money to print a transit frequency map he had developed. Instead of using the typical approach to developing a bus system map, Wessel adjusted colors and line weights according to the frequency of service along each bus route.


Cincinnati Frequent Transit Map (Day Time). Image provided by Nate Wessel.

While he simplified the system map, he also added critical wayfinding information such as neighborhood business districts, parks, neighborhoods and natural landscape features.

“The maps used currently will put the 38X on the same visual level as the 17, but one runs three times a day in each direction, and the other runs almost 100 times a day in each direction,” Wessel explained. “In no way does the map indicate any more value for one over the other, but my map gives people an approximate idea of how long you’ll need to wait, in addition to how frequent the buses come and where they go.”

Wessel grew up in Northeast Ohio and said that his first experience with transit was biking a mile to an unmarked bus stop in Canton. Since then he has studied urban planning at the University of Cincinnati (UC) and worked with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

It was during his time at UC, when he realized something needed to change with the way transit information is visually presented.

“A friend of mine from China was basically saying that he felt trapped in his apartment, and didn’t know anything beyond campus and thought you could take transit, but didn’t know where it went,” recalled Wessel. “He lived in a transit-rich area, but many people like him didn’t know the correct routes to take to the right places, even easily accessible places like downtown.”


Hamilton County property values by square foot. Image provided by Nate Wessel.

The initial Kickstarter campaign raised far more money that Wessel was anticipated, and he was able to print and distribute 30,000 copies of his Cincinnati Transit Frequency Map. The map is now also featured on Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority’s (SORTA) website, but beyond that has not made significant inroads with regional transportation agencies.

Six months after Wessel distributed his new map, SORTA released a new regional transit map, for which they paid $20,000, that lacked the intuitive display and added information presented on the Cincinnati Transit Frequency Map.

While both SORTA and the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK) were originally cooperative, and even contributed financially to the Kickstarter campaign, the follow-up, Wessel says, has been a bit disappointing.

Since the original release and distribution of the frequency map, Wessel has continued to improve upon it while also developing a separate night-time map, and one that focuses on center city transit service. To support those efforts, he launched a second Kickstarter campaign which funded the production of 20,000 additional maps in September 2012.

Wessel, however, has not limited himself solely to transit maps. He has released a number of maps this year that have highlighted property value data in Hamilton County, provided an exhaustive analysis of SORTA’s new transit plan, explained the theory of bus bunching, and is in the midst of an eight-part series critiquing the Cincinnati Streetcar project.

In the future he hopes to do a comprehensive map for bicycling to replace the existing one produced by the OKI Regional Council of Governments (OKI).

“In some way it’s a common interest in Cincinnati that I share with a lot of people that see the city not doing things as awesome as compared to other places, so I kind of want to do that with information about transit and cartography,” Wessel explained. “I also want people to make informed decisions about transit and planning in general, and I think that putting as much information out there in an attractive and useful manner helps.”

Nate Wessel was the winner of UrbanCincy’s first featured profile contest at the September 2012 URBANexchange. If you have a great idea we should know about, please contact the us at urbancincy@gmail.com. URBANexchange events are held on the first Wednesday of every month at the Moerlein Lager House.

Prize to be awarded for best idea at improving urban mobility at September’s URBANexchange

Due to the Reds home schedule, we had to adjust our regularly planned meeting time for this month’s URBANexchange at the Moerlein Lager House. Instead of being held on the first Tuesday of the month, we will be holding it on Thursday, September 13 from 5pm to 7:30pm.

This month we will be getting together just as we have been, but to jumpstart the conversation we thought we would give it a transit theme. We hope you come to discuss ideas that could help improve urban mobility.


Attendees enjoy the Moerlein Lager House and conversation at the August 2012 URBANexchange. Photograph by John Yung for UrbanCincy.

All of the ideas submitted will be reviewed by the UrbanCincy team. The person with the winning submission will then have their idea profiled in an UrbanCincy.com feature story. Will we also do a drawing, from the submitted entries, for a free Metro monthly bus pass courtesy of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA).

The themed transit discussion corresponds with the Metropolis & Mobility Seminar taking place at the University of Cincinnati, and we have confirmed that Paul Grether, Metro’s Manager of Rail Services, will be among those in attendance.

Other notable transportation experts are also expected to be confirmed within the coming days, so stay tuned for those announcements as we get closer to the event date.

Those interested in attending are encouraged to stop by the biergarten at the Moerlein Lager House (map) anytime between 5pm and 7:30pm. There is no entry fee, but we do strongly encourage you to support our host establishment by purchasing food or drink while you are there.

Due to scheduled events at the Moerlein Lager House, it is expected to be a bit more crowded than usual. As a result, we recommend that you arrive early so that we can reserve additional space as is necessary.

Chinatown buses offer direct overnight travel from Cincinnati to New York City

Imagine falling asleep in Cincinnati and waking up in Manhattan the next morning. It’s not a dream but another travel opportunity for the Cincinnati region. With the increasing cost of air travel and the declining flight activity at shrinking airport markets like CVG, many people are turning to low cost alternatives provided by inter-city buses.

Unlike the traditional Greyhound model, curbside intercity bus-service has become popular through services such as Megabus and Bolt Bus. These bus companies based their business plan on the Chinatown bus model developed by the Fung Wah buses in the late 1990’s. Megabus currently offers direct connections to Chicago and other Midwestern cities, including Columbus and Pittsburgh, but does not offer continuing service to New York City. Meanwhile, Bolt Bus has no Cincinnati stops.


Megabus picks up passengers along Fourth Street in downtown Cincinnati. Photograph by Thadd Fiala for UrbanCincy.

According to a recent article from the Atlantic Cities, Chinatown bus service does run direct from New York City to Cincinnati. UrbanCincy investigated the claim and found that there are actually two Chinatown bus services that have established direct bus service from New York City to Cincinnati as well as Dayton and Columbus.

Services operated by Coach88 and Sky Horse Bus operate six days a week, and arrive in the morning after a 12-hour overnight trip. According to their websites, buses come equipped with comfortable recliner seating and restrooms. Select Coach88 busses offers free wi-fi access.

However, Chinatown buses are not for the faint of heart. In a recently released report published in Urban Geography, authors Nicholas J. Klein and Andrew Zitcer conduct several focus groups to gauge rider experience on Chinatown buses. They found that the “participants rendered Chinatown and the Chinatown bus as an “authentic” urban experience.” And because their routes are designed to connect different Chinatowns, riders will have a unique opportunity to experience Asian culture.


Chinatown inter-city bus route map. Graphic from ‘Everything but the Chickens: Cultural Authenticity Onboard the Chinatown Bus’ report by Urban Geography.

Both dropoff locations are in commercial lots which make long-term parking a challenge. Both services currently drop off thirteen miles from downtown in Springdale. Coach88’s drop off point is on Princeton Pike Rd. near the Tri-County Mall and Sky Horse is along Rt. 4 near I-275. These locations are near city bus service provided by SORTA, however, both the #20 and #78 routes are located a half-mile to almost a mile near the drop off locations.

Still curbside bus service continues to appeal to many people, including local resident Rob Naylor.

“Curbside pickup also allows for quicker and more convenient boarding process, which actually makes travel time comparative to air travel in many cases,” Naylor told UrbanCincy. “I also found the curbside pickup to even feel safer, because you’re being picked up on a street often in the middle of downtown, so you’re around activity.”

These bus companies are filling the growing market of low-cost intercity travel alternatives brought on by rising airfare prices. It also serves as a missed opportunity for several state governments, including Ohio which could have capitalized on with expanded inter-city rail connections.

Additionally, implementation of a plan to consolidate these bus services under a single destination like the Riverfront Transit Center, first proposed last July by UrbanCincy, would greatly enhance the accessible population base for these services thus integrating the service into Cincinnati’s broader regional transportation system.