News Politics Transportation

Cincinnati’s regional transit authority proposes reduced service cuts, additional fare hikes

Earlier this month Metro officials looked for public input on how to balance their budget and deal with potentially massive service cuts and/or fare hikes. After weighing the public’s input Metro officials have now come up with a proposal that will represent a 12 percent service reduction combined with fare increases to balance the budget that is facing a $16+ million shortfall.

“We listened to our customers, both at the public meeting on Oct. 2 and through surveys. Most were willing to accept a fare increase with a smaller service reduction, which is the option we are recommending,” said Marilyn Shazor, Metro’s CEO. “Our goal has been to preserve as much service as possible for our customers. But we’re facing a $16 million shortfall next year and the money only stretches so far. We are required by law to have a balanced budget.”

The fare increases, proposed by Metro, are subject to Cincinnati City Council approval, but if passed, will prevent a larger 20 percent service reduction which will save 1 million rides annually and 55 full-time jobs. The new proposed fare increases would result in the following:

  • Zone 1, base fare: $0.25 increase (Zone 1, City of Cincinnati)
  • Zone 2 fare: $0.40 increase (Zone 2, Hamilton County)
  • Transfer charge: $0.25 increase
  • Monthly passes: Increase monthly pass and Fare Deal sticker prices to reflect fare increases
  • Zone 1 pass discount: Eliminate the $5 monthly pass discount

Paratransit service would also be affected under the new proposal. Metro officials have not yet come to a conclusion, but the following options are on the table whether the fare increases are proposed or not.

  • ADA service only: Provide service only at the level required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (Access currently provides limited service to some “grandfathered” customers that goes beyond what the ADA requires)
  • ADA maximum fare: Increase fares to the ADA-allowable fare (twice Metro’s fare for a comparable trip)
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New York’s MTA Director of Sustainability speaks at USGBC forum

The USGBC Cincinnati Regional Chapter teamed up with the City of Cincinnati, Duke Energy and Structurepoint, Inc to present an open forum discussion with the public regarding the role of mass transit and sustainability in Cincinnati on Thursday, October 1 at the Duke Energy Convention Center in downtown Cincinnati. New York City’s Director of Sustainability Initiatives for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), Projjal K. Dutta, started off the discussion with a presentation about the importance of mass transit sustaining the growth and density of cities. He compared the transit system in New York during the early 1900s to its growth in the 1940s. As the city grew to its outer boroughs, the subway tracks followed as well.

In cities with well established public transit systems, the social stigma associated with riding public transportation is non-existent. The man making 2 million dollars a year rubs shoulders on the subway with the guy who panhandled enough to pay for a ride. As Dutta said, “in Munich, you can own a Mercedes and still take the U-Bahn in to work.” The ultimate result is to give citizens a choice in how efficiently they want to travel, not to force them to choose only one option.

Bicyclists embrace at Philadelphia City Hall’s subway station entrance.

Dutta also spoke of how we should view public transit. Is transit a social good, like clean drinking water, or should it be viewed as a business model in which to make a profit? He talked about other country’s methods for generating revenue for their public transit; be it selling the land on either side of the transit to developers, or raising the gas tax to use it for transit funding (Ohio’s gas tax is by law used only for highway maintenance and highway patrol). In any account, it is a hard issue to tackle.

After his presentation there was an open discussion between members of the audience and a panel of representatives from the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA), the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK), Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission, The Banks development team, and the City. Questions ranged from the panelists real feelings about the Cincinnati Streetcar, to the maintenance costs for transit and how that is affecting the systems we already have.

TANK and SORTA are both optimistic about the long term future. TANK is currently working with Northern Kentucky University on several new pieces of technology to improve efficiency and convenience for bus riders. Metro and TANK are both planning new hubs to improve cross-county travel from east to west. As has been previously noted, SORTA’s short-range financial outlook is “dismal.” The difference between the Metro bus system in Cincinnati and TANK is that the Northern Kentucky system gets money from the county for operating costs, and SORTA gets no money from sales tax in Hamilton County.

Pedestrians, buses, trains and bicyclists peacefully coexist in Chicago.

One audience member wondered aloud why we couldn’t just use an integrated bus system (as opposed to rail) to drive up development and save on infrastructure costs. Mr. Dutta succinctly stated, “there is no better marker of intent than putting rails into the ground.” Bus lines can easily be changed, where as developers can be certain that a streetcar or rail line won’t be going anywhere any time soon.

The unanimous agreement from the panelists was that sustainable transit is not only attainable but absolutely necessary in Cincinnati. When we put all our eggs in the highway basket, we can’t properly sustain this city. Todd Kinskey, the director of the Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission, finished up the discussion by saying “there’s no choice but to get out of the car. We keep ripping out neighborhoods and building highways. Why add another lane of traffic when it’s just going to get clogged?”

What sort of crisis is it going to take to get the majority of Cincinnatians to wake up and realize that the automobile is not the end all be all of travel? Apparently the economic disaster that has been the last year was not enough. We need to take the steps forward now to invest in our future, before we wake and realize that the way we do things now is not enough. Integrating all forms of transit- cars, rail, bikes, buses and people – is the most successful, sustainable option for our fantastic city.


Metro looking for public input as potentially massive cuts loom

In light of the recent budget shortfalls, Metro is being forced to make tough decisions on operations for the region’s primary transit service. The bus agency is now projecting a $16-plus million operating and capital budget shortfall in 2010 due to the ongoing recession which has resulted in lackluster income tax revenues for the city of Cincinnati – where Metro receives most of its funding.

With these new projections Metro officials are now considering a 20 percent service reduction or some other combination of service reductions and fare increases. The changes will pose major issues for the thousands of residents who use Metro on a daily basis for their travel needs. Acknowledging the potential severity of these cuts Metro is urging its customers to provide comments on the various options they are considering to balance the budget.

  • Metro service: Up to 20% of service reduced
  • Weekend service: Eliminate Saturday and/or Sunday service
  • Base fare: Up to $0.50 increase (Zone 1, City of Cincinnati)
  • Zone fare: Up to $0.25 increase in addition to base fare increase (Zone 2, Hamilton County)
  • Transfer charge: Up to $0.25 increase
  • Monthly passes: Increase monthly pass and Fare Deal sticker prices to reflect fare increases
  • Zone 1 pass discount: Eliminate the $5 monthly pass discount

Metro is also considering two options that would impact service for those riders with disabilities utilizing Metro’s paratransit service.

  • ADA service only: Provide service only at the level required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (Access currently provides limited service to some “grandfathered” customers that goes beyond what the ADA requires)
  • ADA maximum fare: Up to the ADA-allowable fare (twice Metro’s fare for a comparable trip)

If you would like to have your thoughts heard on the matter you can do so in a variety of ways. On Friday, October 2 Metro will be hosting a public comment day at the Duke Energy Convention Center (rooms 237-238) from 7am to 7pm. Metro officials will be giving a brief presentation every hour on the hour, and the public is encouraged to come by at any point during the day to electronically record their comments for the public record.

If you’re unable to stop by between 7am and 7pm on Friday, you can still share your comments with Metro by filling out an online comment form; sending an email to Metro; faxing your comments to (513) 632-9202; filling out a comment forms available on Metro buses, Government Square information booth, and the sales office in the Mercantile Building arcade; or by mailing your comments to Metro at 602 Main Street, Suite 1100, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202.

All comments must be received by Oct. 2, 2009 to become part of the official public meeting record and will be considered by the Southwest Ohio Region Transit Authority (SORTA) when deciding on which option to choose.

News Transportation

UC*Metro deal renewed for 2009-10 school year

University of Cincinnati students, faculty, and staff have enjoyed free or discounted rides on Cincinnati’s Metro bus service since 2007. The original deal allowed anyone with a valid UC ID card (“Bearcat card”) to ride for free by simply showing his or her ID.

In 2008, some changes were made to the program, requiring students, faculty, and staff to obtain a free quarterly UC*Metro card. This change was made in order to prevent abuse to the program from people with invalid UC ID cards. Eventually, the terms of the program changed, requiring a small fee for these cards.

The UC*Metro deal has been renewed for the 2009-10 school year, with some additional changes:

  • The passes will now cost $40 per quarter for students, and $120 per quarter for faculty and staff.
  • Riders must now present both their UC*Metro card and a valid UC ID.
  • The passes are now only valid for rides within Metro Zone 1. If traveling to an outer zone, the rider must pay the difference between the Zone 1 fare and the normally applicable fare.
  • UC will contribute an additional $100,000 to Metro for this year’s program.
Although this year’s program is more expensive for both riders and the University, UC*Metro passes are still a good deal for UC students, faculty, and staff. Students can visit Metro’s website and use their trip planner, order your UC*Metro card, and start taking advantage of our city’s mass transit.

Queen City Metro cutting Riverfest Express bus service

It’s no secret at this point that transit systems across the nation have been hit very hard during this economic downturn. The funding problems are partly due to lower ridership figures as the economy has soured and fewer people have jobs to commute to, partly due to transit being seen as an easy cut by many politicians looking to make tough budget decisions, and it also seems to be due to the fact that the funding sources for many of our nation’s transit systems are temporary streams and offer no reasonable financial plan for transit agencies as they attempt to plan long-term.

The problem is that while many Americans are having trouble affording the costs associated with owning a personal automobile, their alternative options are becoming more limited as transit service is reduced, prices increase, or both. In Cincinnati, Queen City Metro is cutting service and hoping to land as much stimulus money as possible so that it can afford to keep up with regular maintenance and repairs.

The latest news is that Metro will not operate the Riverfest Express this year during the Labor Day Weekend celebrations downtown that draw more than 500,000 people. Those who have gone to Riverfest in the past know that the area is packed with people and that getting to and from the festivities is not all that easy by car.

The problem is that the special Riverfest Express service cost more to operate than it generated in revenue for the cash-strapped bus agency. Queen City Metro officials encourage those who might have used the Riverfest Express service to instead utilize a regular Metro bus route that will continue operations as planned for that day.

What this means is that those who previously used the Riverfest Express can now take any bus running downtown and then transfer at Government Square to the #1 route which then runs to Sawyer Point, or they could walk the 8 or so blocks from Government Square. Both options seem to be an unlikely choice for those who were previously familiar with taking the Riverfest Express directly from the park and ride location to the Riverfront Transit Center.

It seems natural that difficult decisions have to be made in order to balance the budget, but how can we expect transit ridership to grow while we continue to cut service and/or increase fares. A long-term financial solution also needs to be found that will help avoid these issues the next time an economic downturn comes around. Any ideas?