Megabus, Greyhound Open to Idea of Relocating Into Riverfront Transit Center

Following UrbanCincy’s story on the ongoing struggles between the City of Cincinnati and Megabus, the two largest intercity bus operators have come forward and expressed a willingness to discuss relocating to the Riverfront Transit Center.

The conversations started after Megabus was forced to move its downtown Cincinnati stop this past autumn – marking latest in a series of moves forced by City officials following complaints from surrounding property and business owners.

“Local businesses, through City Hall, requested megabus.com move from 1213 W. Central Parkway to our new present location at 691 Gest Street,” Sean Hughes, Associate Director of Corporate Affairs at Coach USA North America, explained to UrbanCincy. “Megabus.com would love to be in the Riverfront Transit Center, but that was not a viable option because of Riverfront Transit Center operational concerns.”

The issue extends beyond the various intercity bus operators and City Hall. Since the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) operates the facility for the City, and collects annual revenues from it. In October, SORTA officials told UrbanCincy that expanding operations within the Riverfront Transit Center is possible, due to its large excess capacity, but would bring additional costs.

“It’s our understanding that Megabus pays a fee to share transit facilities in other cities,” Sallie Hilvers, Metro’s Executive Director of Communications, said at the time. “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.”

At the same time, there appears to be growing pressures for Greyhound, which has been operating in Cincinnati since 1976, to potentially find a new location as it is crowded out by new development surrounding the Horseshoe Casino.

While Greyhound and SORTA have engaged in conversations in the past about relocating Greyhound’s operations to the Riverfront Transit Center, little progress has been made; and the two sides still appear to be at a standstill, albeit a softening one.

“No decisions on that front have been made that this time,” Lanesha Gipson, Senior Communications Specialist with Greyhound, commented with regard to relocating to the Riverfront Transit Center. “All potential relocations have to be analyzed and be in the best interest of everyone – the customers, the company and the community – before a decision is made as to whether or not we should relocate our operations.”

With both Greyhound and Megabus thriving as an increasing number of people ditch their cars and plane travel for short trips – less than 500 miles – these conversations appear to only be in the early stages.

While all parties agree that some legal, regulatory and logistical issues would need to be resolved prior to establishing the Riverfront Transit Center as Cincinnati’s intercity bus terminal, it sounds like the primary issue is the financial arrangement. Until then, intercity bus passengers will continue to be plagued by continuously moving and inconvenient stations for the region’s two largest operators; and an underutilized transit facility sitting beneath Second Street.

“Megabus.com continues to work with SORTA to find a permanent location for our stop in Cincinnati,” Hughes noted. “Megabus.com has an annual passenger spend of $8.2 million in Cincinnati and we look forward to serving the city by giving passengers a safe, environmentally friendly way to travel.”

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.

VIDEO: A Day in the Life of a Downtown Cincinnati Ambassador

DCI’s Downtown Ambassadors have become a fixture in the center city over recent years. Those working, living or just visiting downtown can easily spot them in their brightly colored uniforms.

Tasked with polishing up the public right-of-way and select buildings, working with panhandlers and the homeless, and providing guidance for the millions of annual visitors, the ambassadors serve a critical role in maintaining the success being experienced downtown.

Thanks to SaucePanCinematic, we now have this approximately three-minute, behind-the-scenes look at a typical day for a Downtown Ambassador.

Episode #44: Fall Update (Part 2)

oasis_lineOn the 44th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, Randy, Jake, John and Travis continue the conversation (part 1) and talk about Cincinnati’s new ridesharing regulations, the popularity of Red Bike, and the conversion of the Oasis Line into a bike trail instead of a rail corridor. We also discuss what could happen in future phases of The Banks and speculate on what will happpen next in the Brent Spence Bridge saga.

Take a Look at These 20 Breathtaking Photos of Cincinnati’s Center City

Many of you who read UrbanCincy get to see and experience the center city on a regular basis, but others of you cannot. But for those of you that do, rarely do you get to take a bird’s eye view of the city.

Brian Spitzig, an occasional contributor to UrbanCincy, recently took a flight around the inner city to take what turned out to be some incredible aerial photography. He took hundreds of photos, but we went through them and selected some of the best to share with you.

This is the first part of what will be a two-part series. The following 20 photographs are all of Downtown and Over-the-Rhine, while the next part of this series will focus on neighborhoods outside of the greater downtown area.

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If you like what you see here, you can follow Brian Spitzig on Instagram.