First State of Metro event touts high marks for Cincinnati's transit system, invites community input

CINCINNATI - With an updated vision and mission statement, Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) board members are focused on creating a more regional service, said Metro CEO and General Manager Terry Garcia Crews, during the first State of Metro meeting Nov. 19.

To help figure out what additional service would look like, SORTA is seeking community input as they look for new ways to meet transportation needs. SORTA operates Metro bus services in a 262-square mile area covering Hamilton County and some parts of Butler, Warren and Clermont Counties.

“When we went out to the community, there were a lot of concepts given to us, and I’m using this analogy: People have told us that they want a cake, but we’re not sure what that type of cake might be. So, the refinement is going to kind of take on that approach,” Garcia Crews said.

Public transit users will be invited to take a survey that will help determine what type of routes are needed for specific parts of the city.

For some Metro users, like Kiara Jackson, 22, that input might call for new or modified routes.

“I just feel like they should change some of their routes around,” the Sayler Park resident said.

While she has been using Metro to get to work for years and likes the bus service, there is not a direct route from Sayler Park to Delhi Township. Instead, she takes a bus to downtown Cincinnati, then another to Delhi Township.

Metro: "First among peer cities" in efficiency

The Nov. 19 State of Metro was a chance for SORTA to show how its services stack up to other regions. Compared to transportation systems in 11 peer regions (identified by Agenda 360 and Vision 2015), Cincinnati ranked first in operational efficiency, according to a study by the University of Cincinnati Economics Center.

The service level provided by Metro was ranked number seven out of the 12 cities, and state and local funding was number 10.

While Cincinnati lagged behind others in service levels and state and local funding, many of the peer cities offer additional forms of public transportation, said Julie Heath, University of Cincinnati Economics Center director.

When Cincinnati was compared to four peer cities with only bus-only public transit, Cincinnati was number one in service level provided and number five in state and local funding.

“Due to Metro’s current dependence on fare revenue … expanding services may require additional local, state or federal funding,” Heath said.

Metro’s proven operational efficiency “should position it favorably to receive and efficiently manage additional funds,” she added.

With 348 buses in its fleet, Metro provided about 17 million rides in 2012, said Metro Public Affairs Manager Jill Dunne. Numbers for 2013 are expected to be about the same.

Annual revenues for 2013 are $91.9 million, Dunne said. Metro’s estimated annual expenses for the year also are $91.9 million. Expenditures include personnel, fuel, bus parts, supplies and utilities.

At the annual meeting, Metro announced it will balance its 2014 budget with no fare increase or service reduction, "the fourth year in a row of maintaining current service levels and fares for the community."

Having partnered with Metro for the past two years, Cincinnati State President O’dell Owens has seen the transit service’s impact on students, whose success depends not only on teachers and education but also on transportation.

“The economic vitality of a region depends on a skilled workforce, and that’s why a higher education is critical,” Owens said at State of Metro.

Recent SORTA, Metro moves

SORTA representatives launched the go*Forward transit plan in 2012. While it was designed for representatives to establish and focus on long-term goals, some short-term improvements already have been introduced.

In August, Metro added two east-west crosstown routes. One new route connects the Glenway Crossing transit center, the new Mercy Health West Hospital, the North Bend Road Corridor and Oakley. The other connects the Glenway Crossing transit center to uptown and Hyde Park.

The new Metro*Plus limited-stop service also was introduced in August as a pre-cursor to Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in the Montgomery Road Corridor. Ten new buses were added to provide service every 15 minutes, connecting the Montgomery Road Corridor, which includes Kenwood, Xavier, uptown, downtown and The Banks. The limited-stop services run 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays.

“We wanted to be very methodical in implementing BRT. We just didn’t want to go ahead and just throw all this BRT service out there. We wanted to make sure that it actually was going to work,” Garcia Crews said.

Ridership on the limited-stop service has tripled since it was introduced, indicating that the service is something the community wants, she added.

New electronic payment fare options also are available, said SORTA Chair Suzanne Burke.

Going forward

In early 2014, Metro will open the new Uptown Transit District, which is  under construction in four key

transit areas:

  • University on Jefferson
  • The medical center area, including stops near Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and UC Health/University Hospital
  • The Clifton Heights business district near Hughes Corner, and
  • On Vine between McMillan and Calhoun

Based on community input, SORTA is looking at adding more express routes, park-and-ride lots and transit centers to better serve suburban areas.

Smaller, on-call buses are being considered as well.

“Once we refine the vision, we can go cost it out to determine what the actual price tag is,” Garcia Crews said.

What is SORTA?

SORTA, a non-profit agency, operates using federal, state and local earning taxes as well as fares from riders.

  • The service area population is more than 845,000.
  • The agency employs about 850 people, most of whom are bus drivers. 
  • Run by a 13-member volunteer board of trustees
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