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Ridership continues to grow on Metro’s express commuter routes

Cincinnati transit officials have recorded the fifth consecutive month for annual ridership increases on their express commuter routes. Transit leaders believe the uptick is due to increasing gas prices, but a stagnant economy and lack of state support may make the gains difficult to maintain.

Newly released data shows an uptick in commuter bus ridership in Cincinnati. The figures from Metro show a 10.9 percent ridership increase for May when compared to last year, and is the fifth straight month of such ridership increases. Officials believe that the increase is a result of increasing gas prices.

“It’s exciting to see the growth in our commuter market,” Metro CEO Terry Garcia Crews said in a prepared statement. “This increase demonstrates that viable option for our residents.”

Such gains may prove difficult to maintain though as economic conditions continue to stagnate and gas prices begin to level off. According to recent reports, unemployment climbed in May and is the highest it has been in 2011. Additionally, employers were reported as adding the fewest workers in eight months.

Metro bus at Government Square in downtown Cincinnati.

Gas prices have also declined from the highest levels since July 2008. These two factors may be tricky for transit officials as they attempt to project ridership patterns for the rest of year. Previously, Metro has been very susceptible to such economic activity, with ridership often declining with the economy.

Even with that said, Metro officials believe that long-term rises in gas prices signal positive ridership trends for the transit agency as commuters look to their wallets.

“If you drive 20 or 25 miles one-way to work, you’re probably using two gallons of gas a day,” Crews explained. “Metro offers a convenient alternative to paying higher gas prices.”

According to Metro officials, these savings can add up. The regional transit agency estimates that local commuters can save $4,500 or more each year by riding transit.

Further complicating the matter is a reduction of state funding support for express commuter bus service. In February, newly elected Governor Kasich (R) cut $70 million which was to support such bus service throughout Ohio. The cuts hit Cincinnati by eliminating funding for express routes from Cincinnati’s western and northern suburbs into Uptown.

Whether commuters will continue to turn to express commuter bus service or not is yet to be seen, but it appears that Metro is banking on such future activity with the recent announcement to expand express bus service to Cincinnati’s northern and western suburbs by cutting service elsewhere.

By Randy A. Simes

Randy is an award-winning urban planner who founded UrbanCincy in May 2007. He grew up on Cincinnati’s west side in Covedale, and graduated from the University of Cincinnati’s nationally acclaimed School of Planning in June 2009. In addition to maintaining ownership and serving as the managing editor for UrbanCincy, Randy has worked professionally as a planning consultant throughout the United States, Korea and the Middle East. After brief stints in Atlanta and Chicago, he currently lives in the Daechi neighborhood of Seoul’s Gangnam district.