Seelbach: If no improvement in streetcar arrival displays in 2 weeks, fire the vendor

Seelbach: If no improvement in streetcar arrival displays in 2 weeks, fire the vendor
Posted at 5:15 PM, Jan 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-18 17:26:48-05

CINCINNATI -- It was more of the same during Wednesday's transportation committee meeting, when members railed against the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority for continued, unreliable real-time streetcar arrival displays.

Council and committee member Chris Seelbach is so fed up, in fact, that during Wednesday's meeting he said if the displays don't show "significant improvement" in two weeks, he will file a motion calling for City Council to direct SORTA -- which oversees streetcar operations -- to fire Trapeze Group, the vendor providing the service.

"There is no excuse, absolutely no excuse," Seelbach -- an ardent streetcar supporter -- said, recounting one experience when he said he waited more than 20 minutes for a streetcar to arrive on Central Parkway.

On weekdays, the streetcar is currently scheduled to arrive every 12 minutes. Each of the Cincinnati Bell Connector's 18 stops is equipped with a screen displaying when the next streetcar will arrive as well as with an automated ticket vending machine.

Both have been thorns in the streetcar's side since its launch in September, although SORTA announced late last year that a number of ticket vending issues had been resolved.

Vice Mayor and committee vice chair David Mann shared Seelbach's frustration.

"It's discouraged me from relying on the streetcar to get anywhere on time," he told SORTA officials. "It's tremendously disappointing and tremendously destructive to what we're trying to achieve."

Councilwoman Yvette Simpson agreed that the arrival displays are a frustration but also offered a more positive experience, saying she was able to use the streetcar to get from Over-the-Rhine to Downtown in less than 10 minutes.

"Let's remember: It's only been running for four months," Simpson said.

The arrival display inaccuracies fit into a larger narrative developing around the streetcar, in which leaders worry that unreliable or confusing elements of the new transit system will cloud the public's perception. During a November committee meeting, both committee chair Amy Murray and member Wendell Young said they received "numerous emails per day" regarding the streetcar arriving late or out of sync with the stop displays.

"We don't want to give people the wrong impression about the streetcar," Young said.

One challenge mentioned during Wednesday's meeting was continued obstructions along the streetcar route -- that is, instances when the tracks were blocked by an illegally parked vehicle, emergency vehicles, or some other obstacle, causing the streetcar to stall in its journey along the 3.6-mile loop.

Streetcar delays also prompted City Council to direct the city's Department of Transportation and Engineering to investigate how Downtown and OTR traffic signal patterns could be improved to accommodate all modes of transportation using the city streets. That study -- which comes with a $300,000 price tag out of the streetcar's contingency fund -- will be the first the city has conducted in two decades.

As they're currently configured, traffic signals favor east-west traffic through Downtown -- due to its location between Interstates 71 and 75 -- while the majority of the streetcar's route travels north-south.

SORTA officials have also previously cited software issues and claimed that the technology used to track the streetcar's location -- part of Trapeze's services -- being faulty.

WCPO reached out to Trapeze Group for further comment but did not immediately hear back.

This story will be updated.

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