Streetcar ridership exceeds projections in first week, transit authority says

CINCINNATI -- Since opening to revenue service Monday morning, the Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcar has exceeded ridership projections throughout its first week, transit officials announced Friday morning.

Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority CEO and General Manager Dwight Ferrell addressed reporters at the Richter & Phillips streetcar station at Sixth and Main streets -- just outside the transit authority's offices -- Friday morning, to provide an update on the streetcar's reception throughout its first week of paid rides.

From Monday through Thursday, the transit authority calculated 12,740 rides, averaging to about 3,185 rides per day. The streetcar's first-year operating budget, approved by Cincinnati City Council earlier this year, accommodated for about 3,000 rides per day.

While the transit authority resolves a software issue with the streetcar's automated passenger counters, they used a ridership calculation method approved by the Federal Transit Authority, according to SORTA spokeswoman Sallie Hilvers.

Ferrell described the streetcar's launch as the "smoothest" he's seen in his 30 years working in public transit.

"I’ve been in transit 30 years, seen three start-ups, and none have had so few issues getting started," he said.

Ferrell couldn't give specifics about when during the day most people were riding, but said he suspects the peaks center around commute times and the lunch hour.

"We’ve got only four days' worth of data. As we get more, we’ll be able to get into much better detail as for the peaks and valleys over the course of the day," he said. "From what I've seen walking Downtown, it's been fairly steady."

But the streetcar's launch has not been without a few hiccups. The transit authority has been working with its partners to resolve some software issues with the fare kiosks located at each of the system's 18 stations, issues that Ferrell said had been mostly resolved by Friday.

"We don’t really get a chance to get bugs out of these systems until people start to use it," he said.

Throughout Friday's media briefing, Ferrell multiple times urged riders to download the mobile app -- called Cincy EZRide -- touting it as the easiest way to purchase fare to ride the streetcar. Riders can also purchase Cincinnati Metro bus fare through the app.

 

Ferrell seemed most interested in making sure that riders who purchase physical passes at a kiosk make sure to validate their pass. Because streetcar passes are time-based -- $1 buys two hours while $2 buys a day's worth of rides -- he said it's important to validate at the kiosk right before hopping on board. This involves inserting one's pass into a card reader on the kiosk and then removing and keeping along the ride. Fare inspectors ride along to check people's fare while the streetcar is moving.

Ferrell said so far fare inspectors have found that everyone has purchased a pass, but many are not realizing they need to validate, as well.

Transit authority staffers Friday were also adding new signage to each stop explaining the process in further detail.

"Download the app!" Ferrell exclaimed several times Friday morning, as passengers approached the stop's kiosk to purchase fare.

In an effort to further guarantee 12-minute intervals during the workweek, Ferrell also said transit officials were working with city traffic engineers to update traffic signal patterns, to increase traffic flow now along the streetcar route, now that service is in full swing.

Looking forward to the weekend's Oktoberfest Zinzinnati celebration, Ferrell confirmed there would be four cars running, rather than the contractually obliged two, in order to accommodate the 500,000 people expected to descend upon The Banks for the festival.

"We’re certainly excited about it and encouraging people to use the system," he said.

Also looking toward the future, Friday's news briefing also introduced the streetcar's new general manager, John Lee, who, like Ferrell, brings three decades of public transit experience to the table. Lee was a part of multiple light rail launches and systems, including Houston and Dallas, Texas, and Escondido, California.

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