Transit authority ups budget request for 2018 to add more weekend service

CINCINNATI -- The transit authority Thursday submitted its streetcar budget request for 2018, at a slight increase from this year.

In a memo issued Friday, City Manager Harry Black said the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority -- which oversees streetcar operations -- requested a 6 percent increase in funding for fiscal year 2018.

According to SORTA's budget request memo, the transit authority estimates roughly $4.2 million in expenses minus roughly $880,000 in revenue, resulting in a funding request of slightly less than $3.4 million.

The transit authority's memo issuing the request to the city explained that the primary difference between this budget request and the approved budget for 2017 was operating an additional streetcar vehicle to run on the weekends, "to maintain the 15 minute headway for Saturday and Sunday service."

So far, weekends have carried the most streetcar riders, contrary to initial projections presented by the transit authority.

The streetcar has struggled during its first months of operation to keep up with its promised schedule -- that is, 12 minute headways on weekdays and 15 minute headways on weekends. Among the reasons for this struggle is downtown congestion, particularly along Walnut Street, historically a hot spot for traffic backups even before the streetcar began operations.

A headway refers to the time interval between arrivals at a given stop.

Streetcar delays prompted City Council last fall to approve a traffic signal study to evaluate how best to time and coordinate automobile, streetcar and pedestrian signals. It will be Cincinnati's first such study in more than 20 years. On average, cities usually conduct traffic signal studies every five to 10 years.

According to SORTA's memo to the city, operating an extra third vehicle on weekends has been common since October, but was never formalized as part of the annual budget.

SORTA spokesperson Brandy Jones emphasized that the budget request is just that at this stage -- a request.

"The City Fiscal Year 2018 Streetcar Operations and Maintenance SORTA Funding Request represents the first step of the Streetcar Budget Process," Jones said. "This does not represent a complete adopted budget and deliberation by both the City and SORTA are required before it is finalized and adopted."

Pat LaFleur reports on transportation for WCPO. Connect with him on Twitter (@pat_laFleur).

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