OKI Survey Results Show Cincinnati Region Wants More Transportation Choices

The OKI Regional Council of Governments recently released survey results affirming the region’s desire for more public transportation and other carless commuting alternatives.

The survey was part of the organization’s public involvement in their 2040 Regional Transportation Plan, which will ultimately set the priorities for the metropolitan planning organization as it looks to distribute federal funding for transportation.

OKI has conducted several surveys to gather feedback on the plan, each one confirming similar desires for more non-automobile transportation options.

The vast majority of the respondents stated that their most frequent mode of transportation is driving their vehicle alone, with only 2% taking the bus and the same amount walking.

In the only open-ended question of the survey, OKI asked what part of their commute to work or school or some other frequent route could be improved. While a common theme was complaints on the massive reconstruction of the Mill Creek Expressway on I-75, respondents also called for a light rail system connecting the region’s suburbs and airport.

Those surveyed complained about a lack of coverage and frequency of Metro bus routes. A universal fare card for TANK and Metro, which is something area transit leaders have been developing. Altogether, 15% of respondents wanted more public transportation options and 11% wanted to improve the transit options that already exists.

While the survey results reinforce the notion that the car reigns supreme in Cincinnati, it also shows that area residents have few, if any, alternatives. As such, more than 56% of respondents said that they would keep their car, but drive much less if non-vehicle modes of transportation were available.

Officials at OKI have recently taken criticism for the planning assumptions they have been using to develop their regional plans, which often include VMT increases that have not been realized in many years.

Survey respondents said they were most concerned about traffic congestion and the lack of public transportation over the next 25 years. Should regional leaders decide to focus transportation investments on building transit, they could seemingly address both concerns at the same time.

Another them that came out of the survey results was that public officials should focus spending resources on maintaining and fixing outdated infrastructure, rather than building new capacity. The idea of institutionalizing “fix-it-first” policies is one that has garnered bi-partisan support across the country, including Ohio.

OKI has conducted several surveys of similar nature over recent years as the work to update and develop their regional plans. Despite the frequency of such surveys, the results have been consistent along the way, with many people asking for more transportation choices and better maintained infrastructure.

“This feedback is providing valuable insight into the transportation needs and issues most important to the public,” officials explained. “It is helping us identify projects that should be recommended for inclusion in the plan.”

The 2016 update to the OKI 2040 Regional Transportation Plan, which includes a recommended project list, is scheduled to be reviewed by OKI’s Board of Directors in June.

Cincinnati COMTO Chapter to Award Nearly $10,000 in Scholarships to Area Students

The Cincinnati Chapter of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials has announced that they plan to award area high school and college students with $10,000 in scholarships.

COMTO says that three scholarships are open to anyone interested in pursuing a career in the transportation sector, while one scholarship will only be available to existing COMTO members.

The largest, the Mallory Humanitarian Scholarship, was established to encourage and promote leadership and public service, and will award $2,500 to someone seen as the “next pioneer” that will help move the Cincinnati region through its next era of growth. The First Transit Achievement Scholarship will distribute $1,500 scholarships to area college students looking to make a difference in the transportation sector.

The MV Achievement Scholarship, which is nationally competitive, will distribute $750 scholarships to those recognized as individuals who share the passion of Feysan and Alex Lodde, who founded the nation’s largest minority and woman-owned transportation organization in 1975.

The Will Scott Scholarship will round out the awards, and is only made available to active COMTO members. Named in honor of Scott’s passion for assisting individuals with developing strategies to achieve their vision and mission, the scholarship also recognizes his establishment of the COMTO Cincinnati Chapter. This $1,000 scholarship will be awarded to someone who is seeking to further their education or advance their career development.

All of the awards will be announced at COMTO’s area luncheon on Thursday, April 21.

“The transportation sector is thriving and can be a very rewarding career choice,” said Cincinnati COMTO President Brandy Jones. “Through our scholarship program, we hope to inspire interest in the transportation industry and help develop its future leaders.”

Jones says that the fields of study that qualify include engineering, urban planning, logistics, management and mechanics, along with a handful of others.

The deadline for applications is Thursday, March 31. Additional information and application instructions can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/comtoapplication.

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.

All Aboard Ohio Celebrates Recent Successes, Future Plans at Recent Meeting

Last Tuesday, All Aboard Ohio held their Spring meeting at the newly-opened Taft Ale House in Over-the-Rhine.

President of the Southwest chapter, Derek Bauman, ran the meeting, which not only included discussion of advocacy for interstate passenger rail in Cincinnati, but also of the ongoing construction of the Cincinnati Streetcar.

Several community leaders and representatives were present, including Streetcar Project Manager John Deatrick, Metro’s Rail Operations Manager Paul Grether from Metro, the chief of staff for Councilman Kevin Flynn, a representative from the Cincinnati Preservation Society, the president of Queen City Bike, and even Cincinnati Union Terminal’s Amtrak station manager.

To begin the meeting, Deatrick and Grether talked about the construction of the streetcar system, which can be seen directly outside of Taft’s Ale House, and the future operation of it. Deatrick informed the crowd that almost 70% of the construction is complete, which is ahead of schedule, and the city expects the first streetcar delivery by September.

When asked to address the ongoing discussion about the next phase to Uptown, Deatrick declined to comment.

Grether then explained how his organization acts as the conduit for federal funds to the streetcar and will be the future operator of the system. He also discussed Metro’s plans to schedule the streetcar in a manner that complements and fully integrates with Metro’s bus operations, and those of TANK.

Another key point that Grether mentioned is that the technology is in place to be able to give streetcars signal priority, should leaders at City Hall decide that is desirable. Such a move would quite significantly improve travel times and performance.

As the conversation moved on, Bauman spoke about the group’s efforts to establish daily passenger rail service between Cincinnati and Chicago. Not having daily rail service to Chicago damages business competitiveness for the city, Baumann said, considering that Milwaukee, St. Louis, Detroit and Indianapolis already currently boast such service.

The effort has received renewed interest as of late due to the debate surrounding the future of the Hoosier State line, which connects Chicago to Indianapolis. Project proponents scored a big win recently when funding was picked up by the State of Indiana to continue its service. Those efforts even attracted the attention of Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN) in a letter he penned to the Federal Railroad Administration about the possibility of future extensions of the line.

Since assuming the presidency of the local chapter, Bauman has made a variety of changes to allow for greater participation and engagement. Meetings are no longer confined to members, for example, and they have begun reaching out to the business community and area universities.

Bauman said that he hopes this approach will help make daily passenger rail service a reality for the Cincinnati region at some point in the near future.

Those that are interested in supporting the efforts of All Aboard Ohio can do so by making a tax-deductible donation to the organization on Tuesday, May 12. On this day the Columbus Foundation will make matching donations to a collection of non-profits throughout the state, including All Aboard Ohio. You can make secure donations to the group on their website.