Is the Cincinnati streetcar ready for the Jungle of a home Bengals game?

Is the Cincinnati streetcar ready for the Jungle of a home Bengals game?
Posted at 6:00 AM, Sep 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-20 13:45:59-04

CINCINNATI -- It's a jungle out there.

So far, since its opening just a little more than a week ago, the Cincinnati Bell Connector met its opening weekends with streetcars packed to the brim.

This weekend, most likely, will be the same. More than 65,000 fans are expected to attend the Bengals' season home opener at Paul Brown Stadium in The Banks.

How will the streetcar be able to handle a rush of fans leaving the game?

The streetcar got its first true test of a huge crowd this past weekend. An estimated half-million people descended upon The Banks for Oktoberfest Zinzinnati -- for the first time in its new location on Second and Third streets near Paul Brown Stadium. The Cincinnati Bell Connector carried just shy of 30,000 rides during Oktoberfest weekend.

Streetcars Friday night for the weekend-long festival's launch were nearly overflowing. I waited for the next car on my ride from Downtown to The Banks because the first car that came by was so crowded. Social media posts abounded, boasting about the streetcar's popularity during the weekend.

The question during Oktoberfest was whether or not there would be enough streetcars running to accommodate the crowds. The city and the transit authority reached an agreement to ensure four of the five Cincinnati Bell Connector vehicles were running during Oktoberfest. The original operations contract calls for two streetcars to run during the weekend. For special events, the transit authority can ask the city for additional dollars to pay for more cars and staff.

For the Bengals' season opener, the transit authority will be running the weekend-standard two streetcar vehicles. SORTA also will offer free bus service in The Banks' vicinity on Sunday, according to transit authority spokeswoman Brandy Jones.

But with nearly 65,000 fans all planning on leaving The Banks area at roughly the same time it isn't clear if that will be enough. And with cars and streetcars all trying to get through the area together for the first time it could be a confusing time Sunday afternoon. The Bengals play the Denver Broncos at 1 p.m. The game will likely end around 4 p.m.

But running extra streetcars could mean extra costs.

The question of big events -- such as Sunday's Bengals home opener -- is still an issue of contention between the city and the transit authority: On the Monday following the streetcar's opening, Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority CEO and General Manager Dwight Ferrell issued a letter to the city of Cincinnati that indicated maintaining 15-minute streetcar service during Oktoberfest would cost an additional $20,000 for the streetcar budget because of staffing and energy costs to run the extra streetcars.

But Mayor John Cranley and other city officials interpreted the contract differently, saying that extra costs would only be accrued if staff increased service to more frequent intervals on the weekend.

One of the reasons there could be a huge demand to ride the streetcar could be the impact the streetcar will have on parking.

Unless you're one of those who pre-purchase parking spots next to the stadium -- mostly intended for tailgaiting -- most folks attending a Bengals game have to turn a pretty penny if they want to park near the stadium.

As WCPO has previously reported, the streetcar stands to open up new parking options.

Here's a look at the parking facilities located along the streetcar loop. To zoom, use the +/- buttons in the bottom left corner. To select a specific location, use open the legend using the button in the top left:

(Note: This map is not exhaustive and does not represent every parking option near the streetcar route or otherwise.)

For some supporters, easing the cost for parking for special events like Bengals games or otherwise is part of the reason behind investing in the streetcar.

So far, streetcar ridership has been steady throughout its first week of charging fares. The first weekend was free to ride.

Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority CEO and General Manager Dwight Ferrell told reporters Friday morning the streetcar saw an average of a little more than 3,100 rides each day -- just topping the projected daily ridership estimates of 3,000 per day.

"The impact will be to help equalize peak parking demand, especially during events," said Derek Bauman, vocal streetcar supporter and southwest Ohio regional director for the rail advocacy nonprofit All Aboard Ohio. "People may choose to park near Findlay Market, have lunch and ride the streetcar to The Banks and spend less in total than they would have just to park near the riverfront."

Also adding increased traffic Downtown will be Midpoint Music Festival, with four locations hosted by venues throughout Over-the-Rhine for the weekend.