COVINGTON, Ky. — The Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky Board of Directors Wednesday approved a massive set of proposed changes to the region's floundering bus system. The changes have been almost a year in the making, with several rounds of public input, but concerns remain in the final hours before Wednesday's vote.
The board approved the proposal unanimously, but it still requires budgetary approval from the Boone, Campbell and Kenton County fiscal courts.
Due to years of steady decline in ridership, TANK officials last summer announced plans to overhaul where and how bus transit serves Northern Kentucky riders. In January, the agency unveiled a list of service recommendations that included cutting service along at least 11 routes in order to focus more frequent service on the region's major commuter corridors, such as Alexandria Pike/U.S. 27, Dixie Highway, or service out to CVG Airport and the adjacent manufacturing and logistics jobs in Boone County. Streamlining neighborhood routes -- like the #3 through Ludlow or the #5 through City Heights and Fort Wright -- as well as express routes were also a part of the proposed changes.
TANK solicited public feedback throughout the month of January and quickly received a laundry list of objections from riders and community leaders. As WCPO reported, Rev. Richard Fowler of the Ninth Street Baptist Church in Covington worried the elimination of service through the city's east-side neighborhoods would disproportionately impact low-income residents, who tend to rely on public transit more.
In the hours leading up to Wednesday's vote, Covington Assistant City Manager Bruce Applegate said TANK has addressed some of the city's initial concerns, but others remain.
"The removal of the 0.4-mile leg on Holman Avenue that connects the surrounding Northern Kentucky Community to St. Elizabeth hospital is primarily important in our most recent ask," Applegate told WCPO, referring to a proposed cut to the #5. "We would ask that that stay no matter what other changes are made."
Applegate characterized the last few months as "a really strong working relationship" between the city and the transit agency.
"As they come out with new iterations of the plan, we’re provided with an opportunity to get our input back in," Applegate said.
A TANK spokeswoman said no officials were available to comment on camera Wednesday afternoon, but she outlined some of the amendments to the original January proposal via email, which included:
- Route #7 and #8 will be split back into two routes with Route #8 serving the Eastern Ave. corridor in Covington.
- Route #8 will be extended south past Latonia to Crestview Hills, providing a direct connection from downtown Covington to Fidelity, St. Elizabeth Edgewood, and Crestview Hills Town Center.
- Route #25 and #25X will be extended south to Alexandria Village Green.
- The recommendation to combine the Southbank Shuttle and Route #12 will be delayed until sometime after FY21 when a vehicle/fleet transition plan is in place to allow for the use of low-floor buses.
Under the updated proposal, TANK CEO Andrew Aiello wrote in an email forwarded by TANK's spokeswoman that these changes would increase the number of Northern Kentucky residents within walking distance of more frequent transit service by 155%, and the number of jobs within walking distance of frequent transit service would increase by 58%.
Under the current TANK operating method, 700 buses go between Cincinnati and Covington -- under the new plan, that will drop to 500. The plan's proponents said that means more buses will go to more areas.
“Pretty significant inefficiencies with the number of times we travel from the Covington Transit Center and downtown Cincinnati," Aiello said Wednesday evening.
The focus of the TANK route redesign is to make sure those who need a ride the most can find one.
"We realize that part of the philosophy of the plan is that we can’t serve every single location in NKY," Aiello said. "But we can provide better service to the areas that need the service.”
Beyond service to St. Elizabeth-Covington, Covington City Manager David Johnston iterated in a letter to the TANK board two additional objections to the service changes: "the removal of low-volume neighborhood routes, and the increased requirement that Covington riders travel to Cincinnati for transfers that access destinations like Northern Kentucky University and the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport."
TANK officials said, regardless of the outcome of Wednesday's vote, any further changes to the plan would not be possible until later this year.
TANK will return to 90% operating service on June 20.