CINCINNATI — Some Cincinnati Metro riders soon might have to catch the bus at a different location when the transit agency rolls out a new program assessing how many stops sit along some of its busiest routes.
Metro officials this week announced the FAStops project, which Metro spokeswoman Brandy Jones said is part of a larger effort to speed up trip times by finding the right distribution of bus stops. It's a process called "stop balancing."
The concept is pretty simple.
"If we're not stopping as frequently, we're going faster," Jones said. "It's not even that we're just taking away stops. There might be stops that are too far apart. We're looking at each stop, and the ideal space between each bus stop is no more than a quarter-mile. That's about a five-minute walk."
In other words, the project should add no more than five minutes to someone's walk to their bus stop.
With more than 4,000 bus stops across Metro's network of roughly 50 local and express routes, it's a big job, Jones said. That's partly because some stops today have been there for decades.
"Many of these stops have been in place for 45 years. It's a major undertaking as you can imagine," she said. "Now we're taking the time to go through each of those, have a list of criteria, are they meeting the ideal amenities, distance and other accessibility tools we have at our disposal."
Jones said the maximum distance between stops will be a quarter-mile for local routes.
What makes a stop a candidate for removal?
"These are stops that are poorly used, not in accessible locations, don't have proper street lights, a proper sidewalk," Jones said. "We're not removing any stops that have major service or are near schools or housing complexes. No one should theoretically miss these stops."
Metro already relocated one stop on Daly Road in Springfield Township -- one that fits all of those criteria -- after it was nominated for "Sorriest Bus Stop in North America" late last summer. The stop placed second in that contest, after a stop in Vancouver, B.C.
There's some national precedent to stop balancing. The Transit Center foundation has been giving guidance to transit agencies across the country on how to optimize bus stop spacing. In an October report, the center looked at five U.S. city transit agencies -- Minneapolis-St. Paul; Portland, Oregon; Pittsburgh; Los Angeles; and New York -- and found that strategic spacing between bus stops had a measurable impact on trip times.
Cincinnati Metro partnered with Transit Center to produce an educational video explaining the project.
With more strategy behind stop placement, that will pave the way for better equipping more of them with amenities like real-time displays, shelters and benches, Jones said.
"When we’re talking about adding all these amenities to stops, we want to make sure we put them at stops that best serve the riders," she said.
Jones said Transit Center helped Metro produce the video at no cost.
Reassessing its stops is part of Metro's overall efforts to provide faster and more reliable service, Jones said, based on what riders are telling them.
"This whole process spurred from customer feedback," she said.
Jones said Metro expects to begin testing stop removal and relocation by late spring or early summer, followed by a round of public input based on that early testing. Leading up to that testing, the transit authority will hold a series of public meetings in January to educate the public on what to expect.
Riders can expect to see the project implemented across the entire Metro system by December 2019.
"We'll be in constant communication along the way," Jones said.
Metro hired an outside transportation planning consultant, San Francisco-based Nelson/Nygaard, to complete the systemwide bus stop assessment at a cost of just below $250,000. That two-year contract includes a complete bus stop inventory, image production of each stop for mapping purposes, rider outreach and surveying, an analysis of current route running times and the pilot implementation as well as a Title VI analysis required by federal law, Jones said.