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Cincinnati streetcar will go fare-free permanently starting Nov. 1

The Cincinnati Bell Connector sits outside the maintenance and operations facility in OTR.
Posted at 11:00 AM, Oct 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-01 18:38:02-05

CINCINNATI — Since reopening after a pandemic-related suspension, Cincinnati's streetcar has not charged fares for passengers to ride. Starting Sunday, that change will become permanent.

The Cincinnati Bell Connector resumed carrying passengers early last month after months of limited activity due to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent budget uncertainties. After weeks of back-and-forth between Mayor John Cranley and City Council, lawmakers voted to fund streetcar operations in such a way that did not rely on farebox revenue.

TIMELINE: Mayor, City Council spar over fare-free streetcar
IN DEPTH: Would more people ride the streetcar if they didn't have to pay a fare?

The measure passed in September only allows for the streetcar to operate fare-free for 60 days while the city administration renegotiates agreements with streetcar staff and the Federal Transit Administration. On Oct. 14, City Council voted to make the fare-free funding structure a permanent feature of the Cincinnati Bell Connector, beginning Nov. 1.

City Councilman Greg Landsman's Major Projects and Smart Government Committee held a public hearing Tuesday at 1 p.m. at City Hall. This was one of the final steps required by the FTA to accommodate the permanent fare change initiated by City Council two weeks ago.

"What it allows for is people to get on and off very quickly, and that should improve the experience," Landsman told WCPO after Tuesday's hearing. "When people start to come back Downtown when it's safe to get out and about like it was prior to the pandemic it should, as it has in other cities, increase ridership."

No one from the public attended to speak during that meeting, but multiple residents spoke on the matter back in September during the initial discussions.

The decision to make the streetcar fare-free came with the bickering and finger-pointing that has become typical of streetcar discussions at City Hall. Cranley -- a long opponent of spending city funds on the streetcar -- proposed preserving fares and reallocating that revenue toward increased police visibility in neighborhoods hit by this year's spike in violent crime.

He also argued that if the city should subsidize any sort of public transit fares, it should be for Cincinnati Metro bus service, calling a fare-free streetcar unfair to bus riders.

Given the pandemic-related, months-long streetcar shutdown, and now having operated fare-free for the last two months, recent data regarding how much fare revenue the streetcar collected on a daily basis is scarce and unreliable. In a May 2019 memo, then-City Manager Patrick Duhaney estimated that the Connector had brought in roughly $330,000 in fares in 2018, but the cost to collect those fares -- including printing the tickets, maintaining the ticket vending machines and paying fare inspectors -- offset that revenue by nearly $260,000.