UC study: Metro could do more to connect commuters to jobs

'We need to deliver our services differently'

CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Metro might run efficiently, but it could improve when it comes to connecting area workers to their jobs.

That’s just one finding of a new study released this week by the University of Cincinnati Economics Center. “The Community Impact and Related Benefits of Metro” looked at the bus system’s role as an economic development driver by connecting residents to jobs, medical facilities and other services.

The study is part of the Metro’s Futures Task Force’s investigation into where and how it might grow its bus service. The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority launched the initiative earlier this year, which has also included a series of public “listening” sessions across Hamilton County.

In recent months, Metro has also ramped up its efforts to woo younger riders, through things like entertainment rides and embracing mobile and real-time location technologies.

Overall, UC's findings were a mixed bag but did provide some specific direction as to how Metro can grow most strategically.

SORTA Board Chair Jason Dunn said he’s pleased with Metro’s efficiency: in a 2013 study, the Economics Center found that Metro was “the most operationally efficient and had the highest service capacity” of all comparable American cities that have a bus-only transit system.

“This study tells us that our services are delivered efficiently,” Dunn said in a statement issued Thursday. “But we’re not yet connecting people to jobs as well as we need to. We need to deliver our services differently to meet the needs of today’s worker.”

While the Metro provide 16.4 million rides each year, every day, around 15,500 of those are rides to work, the study's data found. Roughly 3.7 percent of those rides to work are taken by people who live within a quarter-mile of a Metro route.

But the study found that more than 50,000 health care workers and more than 25,000 manufacturing workers do not have a Metro stop within a quarter-mile of their place of employment. Additionally, while more than 70 percent of all Hamilton County business establishments are within a quarter-mile of a Metro route, Metro may not be providing adequate levels of service to access some of those jobs, the study found.

Dwight Ferrell, Metro’s CEO & general manager, acknowledged the shortfall and said he is thinking of ways to improve service. “By adding crosstown routes and developing even more efficient ways to get riders to where they want to go, we can significantly increase our impact on the regional economy,” he said.

Crosstown and radial — that is, from the city center out to the suburbs — service was among the study’s chief recommendations for researching improvement. According to the Economics Center’s analysis of Metro midday service offerings, a ride from Blue Ash to the Sharonville Convention Center could take anywhere from two hours and twenty minutes to three hours, depending on connections and transfers.

And, of course, expansions like these aren't free or even cheap: Dunn told WCPO in July that his board has considered proposing a tax levy to fund future expansion plans. According to an October 2014 phone survey of 503 Hamilton County residents,  73.8 percent said expanded and improved transit service is needed. But survey takers were less eager to pay for the growth, with less than a majority saying they would support any sort of tax.

The report had some encouraging news for Metro, as well. While frequency of service or stop location, particularly in outlying areas, could improve, the study pointed out that Metro benefits from service to Sharonville, Blue Ash, Montgomery, Loveland, Indian Hill and Madisonville, in that these areas make up some of Greater Cincinnati’s fastest growing job hubs. Metro also provides service to other job hubs, namely Downtown through CUF, Clifton, Avondale and North Avondale.

While Metro might have ground to make up when it comes to delivering commuters to their places of work, the study also showed it might have a significant impact on congestion Downtown. The study estimates bus service along Metro’s top five central business district routes has reduced parking congestion by 25 percent, or 8,500 monthly permit parking spaces.

The Economics Center also estimated Metro service has resulted in a reduction of drivers’ vehicle miles to the tune of $6.5 million in social costs like pollution, safety and time.

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WCPO's Lisa Bernard-Kuhn contributed to this report.

Follow Pat LaFleur on Twitter (@pat_laFleur) for all things Cincinnati Metro and living car-free in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

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