Second Real-Time Transit App Launches Just Four Months After SORTA Opened Data

Area transit riders can now download a new app called Bus Detective that offers real-time arrival information for Metro bus service.

Developed by locally based Gaslight, the app is free and available for download on Android and iOS devices. The data has also been packaged so that it can be accessed on the web at www.busdetective.com.

For years the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority had been reluctant, like many other transit operators throughout the nation, to open up their data to the public. But just four months after opening the data, the region’s largest transit agency is now the beneficiary of a free real-time bus tracking app.

“It’s all about convenience. Our customers want to know when their bus is coming, real-time,” says Metro CEO Dwight Ferrell. “Smartphones are everywhere, and transit apps like Bus Detective make transit even easier to use.”
The city’s burgeoning tech community had been calling for local leaders to open more data. So far 2015 has proven to be a watershed moment for such actions, particularly so with the launch of Open Data Cincy.

“We’re huge fans of open data and turning that information into something valuable for the public,” says Chris Moore, CEO of Gaslight. “We also love public transportation and hope the app encourages more people to ride the bus.”

A query of the App Store reveals that Cincinnati may be the first transit agency in Ohio with its own custom real-time tracking application; however, both Cincinnati and Cleveland also have had Transit Tracker – an app that has been tailored to more than 30 cities nationwide – since 2014.

Both applications are free to use, but Transit Tracker can be used on the Apple Watch if users purchase an in-app upgrade. It also offers limited interoperability with TANK and Cincy Red Bike.

While Bus Detective has been available for more than two weeks, it officially launched today.

The timing could not be better, as reports show that Metro continues to struggle with stagnant ridership with what industry analysts call choice riders. Apps like these allow for people, who could otherwise opt for a personal automobile or ridesharing services, to more comfortably plan their transit schedules; and thus more likely to ride the bus.

“The Bus Detective app is a great example of the talent and creativity within our community and is helping make catching the bus even easier for the thousands of customers who rely on our service every day,” said Ferrell.

The app is relatively simple to use. Users just need to download the app and then search for their stop by a specific street address or the closest stop to their current location. From there users are presented with the arrival information for the next several buses, and can save specific stops as favorites for quicker reference in the future.

While the app offers clear bus tracking information, it does not allow users to map their trips. This much more complicated function is best carried out by using GoogleMaps, which Metro was added to in 2011 after the agency opened their data to the tech giant.

The Bus Detective launch event will continue on Fountain Square today until 1pm. Those who attend will be able to learn more about the app, while also having the opportunity to win prizes and take selfies with a full-size, sleuthy Metro buses.

Area Transit Agencies to Offer Free Rides to Those Using Bike Racks on May 15

For those not in the know, May is National Bike Month. It’s a month filled with bike rides, safety adverts and general proclamations of support for one of the humblest modes of transportation.

In celebration of this, Metro, the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky, and Clermont Transportation Connection have partnered to reward those getting around by bike, and to encourage people to combine bicycle trips that are augmented by bus service.

All three transit agencies feature bike racks on the front of all their buses. For many people, the bus can serve as a primary mode for their travel, while bikes serve the last-mile of the trip. Plus, in a hilly city like Cincinnati, buses can be used for even short jaunts up a steep incline for those not looking forward to the trek.

In celebration of Bike to Work Day, Metro, the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK) and Clermont Transportation Connection (CTC) have partnered to show bicycle commuters just how easy biking and busing can be with free rides on Friday, May 15 only, when they transport their bikes on the easy-to-use bus bike racks.

So in order to reward and encourage people to use their bikes with bus service, the three transit agencies are offering free rides to anyone using the bike racks on the buses this Friday, May 15.

None of the agencies allow for bikes to be brought onto their buses, so it is a good idea for cyclists to get familiar with the operation of the retracting bike racks on the front of the buses. The racks installed on Metro, TANK and CTC can hold two bikes each.

Episode #49: Ideas to Copy

Cincy Bus Transit MapOn the 49th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, Travis, Jocelyn, Jake, and Randy take a listener suggestion and come up with a list of ideas that Cincinnati should copy from other cities. We touch on the ideas like introducing ultra-high speed internet access, completely re-drawing the city’s bus route map, merging smaller municipalities together to gain efficiency, introducing an urban service boundary, and finding innovative ways to generate electricity. In a future episode, we’ll follow up with even more ideas that Cincinnati should consider copying.

Metro Rolling Out Series of Transit Enhancements for Peeble’s Corner District

As part of Metro’s system-wide upgrades, transit officials have announced a new project to upgrade stations and services in Walnut Hills.

The first part of these enhancements includes the availability of Metro’s monthly passes and regional stored-value cards, which were available as of last week, at the customer service counter at the Walnut Hills Kroger on E. McMillan Avenue.

“At Kroger, we are always seeking ways to offer conveniences to our customers,” explained Sarah Raney, Walnut Hills Kroger Store Manager. “The Walnut Hills Kroger is happy to partner with Metro to sell bus passes to our customers who regularly use them.”

In addition to many of the store’s customers, management also says that many of the store’s employees use Metro bus service to get to and from work on a daily basis.

According to Brandy Jones, Public Relations Manager at Metro, this is the first such partnership for the region’s largest transit operator, but could be the first of more to come. Jones says that this is a test to see how it works, and that additional partnerships with Kroger and other retailers may be explored.

The move is part of a larger goal to increase ridership system-wide. Other recent improvements have included the construction of the Uptown Transit District and Glenway Crossing Transit Center, and the establishment of the Montgomery Road Metro*Plus route and several new crosstown routes.

Metro officials tout the Walnut Hills Transit Enhancement Project as enhancing service for one of their busiest neighborhoods. According to ridership data, approximately 208,000 rides were provided to the historic neighborhood in 2014. Once complete in 2016, the enhancement project will introduce new sheltered boarding areas, improved lighting, sidewalk and landscape improvements, electronic real-time arrival screens and some other more modest improvements at a total of seven stations in the Peeble’s Corner area.

“Metro is invested in the Walnut Hills community,” Dwight Ferrell, Metro CEO & General Manager, stated in a prepared release. “We’re excited that the Walnut Hills Kroger has become the first major retailer in the region to sell Metro bus passes. This new partnership will help us better serve our mutual customers.”

The commitment from Metro is just the latest in a string of positive announcements from the surrounding neighborhoods, but community leaders are hoping to provide even more transportation choices, such as Cincy Red Bike, in the future as well. But as for now, neighborhood leaders are particularly bullish on the impacts the Walnut Hills Transit Enhancement Project will have on the E. McMillan Corridor.

“We think this is going to be a game changer,” Kevin Wright, Executive Director of Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation, explained to UrbanCincy. “Peeble’s Corner has always been one of the largest transfer points in the city and we think ridership will only grow as we add more density to the corridor.”

EDITORIAL NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Metro provides approximately 2.8 million rides to the Walnut Hills area, while the number of rides is actually 208,000.

System Designs Unveiled, Operating Agreement Reached for Cincinnati Streetcar

Officials with the City of Cincinnati and Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) made several major announcements last week pertaining to the rollout of the Cincinnati Streetcar system.

While the design of the rolling stock and the system’s color scheme were revealed more than a year ago, the official branding for the new mode of transit for the Cincinnati region had not. SORTA officials say that the branding will be utilized all throughout the system including its fare cards, ticketing machines, uniforms, wayfinding, brochures, website and social media, and, of course, the trains and their stations.

The branding scheme was put together by Kolar Design, whose offices are located in the Eighth Street Design District just two blocks from the nearest streetcar stop, after competing with more than 100 other firms interested in the opportunity to developing the design scheme.

Project officials say that the $25,000 cost for the branding effort was paid for through Federal funds.

Founders Club Card Sales
At the same time, SORTA and City officials announced the availability of 1,500 Founders Club Cards. The sale of the cards, officials said, would help raise some initial funds to be used to help offset initial operating expenses.

Project officials have informed UrbanCincy that approximately half of the 1,500 cards were sold within the first 24 hours of going on sale; and that more than 1,000 had been sold by Friday. A limited number of Founders Club Cards are still available for purchase at the Second Floor Cashier’s Office at City Hall, Metro’s sales office in the Mercantile Arcade across from Government Square, and online at Metro’s website.

There are three card options available. The first goes for $25 and allows for unlimited rides for the first 15 days of service, which is currently pegged for 2016. The second and third options go for $50 and $100, and allow for unlimited rides for the first 30 and 60 days, respectively.

The commemorative metal cards and matching metal cases were seen by some as one of the first ways for Cincinnati Streetcar supporters to show their support. Having experienced strong sales thus far, it seems as Metro’s strategy may prove to be a success.

“This is one of the first tangible opportunities streetcar enthusiasts can show their support,” said City Councilwoman Amy Murray (R), Transportation Committee Chair. “This is a great idea that Metro has developed to generate excitement. I think many will appreciate the privilege of being a Founding Club Member with this commemorative card.”

Operating Agreement Finalized
Perhaps lost amid the other news was the signing of an official operating agreement. Under the current structure, the City of Cincinnati is building the system, and is its owner, but will contract out its operations to SORTA.

The Cincinnati Streetcar Operating & Maintenance Agreement first came out of Murray’s Transportation Committee and was approved 7-2 by City Council in early November. It calls for expanded on-street parking enforcement in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine until 9pm, an increase in parking rates in those two neighborhoods, and a set streetcar fare of $1 for two hours.

The agreement also utilizes an innovative technique that would lower property tax abatements 7.5%. This is an important component of the agreement as it addresses a longstanding call from opponents for those benefiting from real estate valuation increases to cover more of the costs of modern streetcar system. It also eliminates the need to utilize the Haile Foundation’s $9 million pledge, and would instead only tap into those funds in a worst-case scenario.

Project officials estimate that the system will cost approximately $3.8 to $4.2 million annually to operate, and that those costs would be covered by $1.5 million in additional on-street parking revenue in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine, $1.3 million from fares and advertising, and an estimated $2 million annually from the tax abatement reductions.

“This is the most innovative plan I’ve seen in the United States,” stated John Schneider, noted transit advocate and real estate developer, at the time of City Council’s approval in November.

The SORTA Board approved the agreement last week and touted the benefits of having operations of the Cincinnati Streetcar be handled through Metro, which also runs the region’s largest bus service.

In addition to the critical financing elements of the agreement, it also delineates various responsibilities once service goes into effect. To that end, the City of Cincinnati will be in charge of maintaining traffic signals, clearing blockages from the streetcar path, cooperation on utility interfaces, safety and security; while SORTA will be responsible for operating the system, maintaining vehicles and facilities, fare collection provision and maintenance, marketing and advertising sales.

Construction on the $148 million first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar continues to progress, with most track work in Over-the-Rhine now complete and track work now progressing through the Central Business District. Current time frames call for operations to begin in September 2016.