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.

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.

Crowdfunding Campaign Wants to Give $4,000 to Ideas That Improve the Transit Experience

Taking transit is not always a gratifying experience. Sure you are reducing your stress by not sitting in traffic, and you’re reducing the impact on both your wallet and the environment. But that does not change the fact that there are many times where you are waiting for your bus or train in unpleasant circumstances.

Of course, unpleasant waiting and riding conditions are not the only things keeping some people away from taking transit, or upsetting those that already do.

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) has been trying to fix some of these issues with recent service enhancements and new transit facilities. But those efforts have only gone so far with a limited budget.

Here’s where you come in.

If you have an idea that you think would improve the transit experience for existing and potential future riders, Ioby – a neighborhood crowdfunding program – wants to hear about it. In partnership with Transit Center, they will select the best applicants and award them up to $4,000 in matching funds to implement their idea through what they are calling the Trick Out My Trip campaign.

In order to qualify, organizers say that projects should be non-digital tools that improve the public transportation experience, focus on a single node within a transit system (train station, bus station, bus shelter, subway or metro stop, bikeshare docking station), encourage the use of clean transportation, or be something that is in the spirit of improving shared public transportation experiences.

Ioby also asks that project budgets not exceed $10,000, and that each project involves a group of three or more people working together.

Since Ioby is a crowdfunding platform, project budgeting will require each application to create their own crowdfunding page where the amount of money they raise will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to $4,000, by Ioby.

Those interested are asked to submit an initial form of interest by Monday, October 6. From there projects will be selected, with fundraising activities taking place in late October. Organizers say that projects will need to be implemented by November 25, 2014, with reports on their effectiveness delivered by December 16.

So, what’s your idea?

PHOTOS: Take a Look at Metro’s New Uptown Transit District Stations

City officials and the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) unveiled the new $7 million Uptown Transit District earlier this year. The hope is that the enhanced stations and improved design will improve the experience for existing and future bus riders.

But if the Glenway Crossing Transit Center is to serve as any evidence, then this might in fact pay off for Metro in the form of higher ridership.

The Uptown Transit District, however, is a bit different from the west side park and ride station, and the long-time Government Square hub. Instead, it is four distinct areas – Children’s Hospital, Vine & Calhoun, University, Clifton Heights – within the sprawling Uptown area that are seen as major nodes for riders. Transportation planners at Metro say this approach was taken due to the layout of Uptown and the lack of a single location that could serve as a major hub like Government Square is for Downtown.

In addition to serving a dozen or so existing bus lines, different stations in the Uptown Transit District also serve the University of Cincinnati’s Bearcat Transportation System (BTS) and the regional bus authority’s new Metro*Plus route.

All of the stations include covered seating areas similar to those being constructed for the Cincinnati Streetcar system. They also include real-time arrival screens, area wayfinding, ADA accessibility and include information about nearby landmarks.

The stations were designed by Cincinnati-based MSA Architects.

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EDITORIAL NOTE: All 22 photos were taken by Eric Anspach for UrbanCincy on August 22, 2014.

Will Uptown Transit District increase ridership for Metro?

Uptown Transit DistrictThe UC*Metro program, which allows University of Cincinnati students, faculty, and staff to purchase discounted transit passes, has seen many changes since it was introduced in 2007. With the latest extension to the agreement, the cost is unchanged; students will be able to purchase passes for $53 per semester for the next three academic years. The cost for employees is also unchanged at $160 per semester.

What riders will notice, however, is that several of the Metro facilities they’ll use have been significantly upgraded. Work is now complete on the Uptown Transit District, Metro’s name for a number of improvements at four locations near campus. In addition to wayfinding signage and improved lighting, all of the new stops feature real-time arrival information, which was first introduced by Metro in 2012, and two of the stops also feature ticket vending machines, like the ones Metro installed at the Government Square bus hub earlier this year.

The Uptown Transit District upgrades are an example of how the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) is continuing to improve service and increase ridership in spite of its limited budget. In February, we reported that SORTA is one of the best stewards of limited financial resources, compared to 11 peer agencies across the country.

In 2012, SORTA built the Glenway Crossing Transit Center park and ride location, which seves several routes, including the 32, 38X, and 41. Earlier this year, SORTA reported that ridership was up by as much around 20% on these routes compared to the previous year.

While SORTA isn’t anticipating a specific increase in ridership due to the Uptown Transit District upgrades, the goal of those improvements was to “make it easier for current and new riders,” Jill Dunne, Public Affairs Manager for SORTA, told UrbanCincy.