CINCINNATI -- For the first time, Cincinnati Metro buses enjoyed their own dedicated lane Monday morning along Downtown's Main Street corridor.
From 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday, the right-side parking lane on Main Street switched from a parking lane to a transit-only lane. The lane also switches to bus traffic only during the afternoon rush hours between 4 and 6 p.m.
Drivers caught using the lane during those hours now could face a $100 fine.
City officials, transit leaders and advocates gathered at Government Square Monday morning to commemorate the occasion.
"We recognize how the transportation landscaping is changing, and we’re not going to allow public transportation to be an afterthought," said City Councilmember P.G. Sittenfeld. Sittenfeld wrote the legislation making the bus lane a reality, after his Education, Innovation and Growth committee studied the lane's feasibility earlier this year.
The bus-only lane pilot project was nearly a year in the making, with advocates from the grassroots nonprofit Better Bus Coalition lobbying City Hall in early 2018. The city will test the new lane configuration for an unspecified number of weeks or months, to study its impact on traffic flow and bus arrival times.
"We're going to monitor the data, but for me, if the data says what we all believe it will say over the course of the next several weeks -- at most, a couple months -- I think we'll be ready to say, 'If it was a success here, let's make it a success elsewhere,'" Sittenfeld said Monday.
"It won't take long to know if this is working like we believe it will work," he said.
With a new transit-only lane in play, Sittenfeld said the big piece now is enforcing the new traffic rules.
"Enforcement is going to be a big deal," Sittenfeld told reporters. "If someone thinks they can come and park there and run in and get a bagel for 15 minutes, they can't. They're going to get a ticket."
The new bus lane isn't the only transit-related traffic enforcement challenge the city has faced in recent months. A WCPO analysis earlier this year found vehicles parked along the streetcar tracks posed a major problem for that transit system.
Sittenfeld said the streetcar has taught him some lessons on how to change drivers' behavior when they're sharing the roads with transit vehicles.
"I think what we've learned about enforcement is that we have to do it," he told WCPO. "You can't talk about enforcement. You can't think about enforcement. You have to do enforcement."
According to Metro, roughly 635 buses travel the corridor each day, with 90 of those buses using Main Street's far-right lane to pick up and drop off passengers.
The beleaguered bus system has struggled with increasingly limited funding and dwindling ridership over the last decade. The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority predicts a $184 million budget shortfall over the next 10 years if leaders can't establish a new permanent source of funding for bus service.
While a financial forecast earlier this year said there are no easy fixes to solve Metro's budget crisis, leaders hope small enhancements like bus-only lanes could be steps in the right direction.