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Cincinnati’s new transport payment system should be world leader

As Cincinnati’s transport officials prep for the introduction of a modern streetcar line in 2012, and potential bus rapid transit in the coming years, further improvements need to be made to the network. One of the most striking improvements needed is a new payment system for those using Cincinnati’s various bus systems, the streetcar, taxis and bike and car share programs if they ever materialize.

In Korea the T-Money Card rules. Based off of a simple yet wildly successful tap-and-go pay system, the card can be used all over the place. In Seoul, one can use the T-Money Card to pay for taxis, trains, buses, museums, vending machines, stores, fines, taxes and more. And in addition to the transit stations, the card can be purchased at convenience stores all over the metropolis.

The functionality is brilliant, and policy makers there have decided to use the data collected, from the system, to determine funding allocation for transit routes. This means that the most heavily used routes and stations get the most investment. Furthermore, the efficient tap-and-go system allows for quick payments and faster boarding on crowded buses and trains.

London has recently decided to go a step further. Their new Oyster Card not only offer the same benefits of the T-Money Card (minus taxi use), but the system also allows for people with contactless bank cards to use those as their tap-and-go payment. Both the T-Money and Oyster cards offer customization as well. The Oyster Card has custom holders and card designs, while the T-Money Card has custom card designs and sizings.

There are flaws with both systems from which Cincinnati can learn as it upgrades its payment system over the coming years. The first lesson is to have broad appeal. Cincinnati should engage various stakeholders to help develop a system pay card that can be used on all of the regional bus systems, streetcars, pedicabs and water taxis. While doing this the city should keep in mind future integration with any bike or car sharing programs.

Flexibility should also be a part of the new payment system being discussed in Cincinnati. The beauty of electronic pay is that the payment plans are limitless. A rider should be able to choose from buying a certain number of trips, specified time frame (i.e. 30 days) or even just a certain dollar amount. Offering riders choices will help fuel ridership and attract riders of choice.

While Cincinnati has been late to the game when it comes to upgrade its decades-old payment system, it allows transport officials to learn from others around the country and world. Innovative technologies and approaches should be used to make sure Cincinnati is on the cutting edge. London and Seoul have great payment system solutions, and Cincinnati should combine them for an even better one.

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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.