Posts Tagged ‘Cincinnati Bell Connector’

Cincinnati Streetcar to Resume Carrying Passengers

August 8, 2020

The Cincinnati streetcar line is expected to resume carrying passengers in late August with rides being free.

The reopening was made possible after the Cincinnati City Council voted 6-3 in favor of a plan to resume service, which was suspended in late March during the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The reopening will come despite the opposition of Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, who wants the streetcar line to remain closed.

Cranley, who has long opposed the streetcar, described it as a luxury the city cannot afford, particularly at a time when it has had to borrow $10 million to balance its budget.

The council vote overrode a veto that Cranley issued on a funding plan that will divert $1.8 million from the city’s transit fund to pay for operating the streetcar.

That fund is largely used to fund public transit bus service provided by the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority.

The city is currently spending $3 million to periodically operate streetcars without passengers in order to maintain the functionality of the streetcar infrastructure.

“We’re not even discussing whether to fund or defund the streetcar, we’re discussing today whether we’re going to use $3 million to run an empty streetcar — which from my vantage point is fiscally irresponsible,” said council member Jeff Pastor.

“Or we’re going to fully run the streetcar so that people can get around in Over-the-Rhine as it was intended to do.”

That prompted Cranley to ask who was going to ride the streetcar in the middle of a pandemic.

“And is that more important than finding addition dollars for bus riders?” he said.

Cranley argued that for every month the streetcar is closed the city saves money.

The council vote to reopen the streetcar will mean that 19 furloughed employees will be recalled to work.

The streetcar line connects downtown Cincinnati with the Over-The-Rhine neighborhood over a 4-mile loop. It opened in September 2016.

Mayor Wants to Keep Cincy Street Car Line Closed

June 15, 2020

Cincinnati’s mayor is recommending that the city streetcar line remain closed during the next fiscal year.

The streetcar line last carried passengers on March 30. At the time officials said that was due to the difficulty of sanitizing the five cars used on the line.

However, Cincinnati Metro buses have continued to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some supporters of the streetcar suspect that lingering antagonistic city officials are behind the move to shut down the streetcar line for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, as a backdoor way to kill it.

City council member David Mann, chairman of the budget committee, said he hopes the streetcar resumes operation eventually but said the city has other pressing needs.

“So, I would prefer we circle back around that question in a few weeks,” he said.

But transit supporter Derek Bauman argues there is no need to keep the 3.6-mile streetcar line closed and he fears the city administration wants to inflict harm on the system.

The longer it remains closed, some fear, the less likely that previous riders will use it again.

The Cincinnati Bell Connector opened in September 2016 between downtown and the Over the Rhine neighborhood.

The budget proposed by Mayor John Cranley would allocate $2.9 million to maintain the streetcar infrastructure for a year but passengers would not be allowed to board the occasional streetcar runs that would be made.

The current fiscal year budget for the streetcar line is $4.6 million.

In the next fiscal year the mayor wants to divert $2 million in parking meter revenue and fines that would have gone to the streetcar into the general fund.

The city expects parking revenue overall to drop in fiscal year 2021 due to the lingering effects of the pandemic combined with the economic recession.

Cranley long has been an opponent of the streetcar and tried to kill it in 2013.

Cincinnati received $45 million in funding from the Federal Transit Administration to pay for the $148 million streetcar line.

When the major sought to scrap the streetcar project seven years ago the FTA threatened to demand the city pay back what it had received.

The city council voted to overrule the mayor and the streetcar project was completed.

The Cranley administration argues that keeping the streetcar line in operable condition even though passengers are not allowed to ride would not be a violation of the FTA grant agreement, which requires Cincinnati to operate the streetcar line for 21 more years.

The proposes streetcar budget does not project receiving any revenue from streetcar fares, advertising or naming rights money from Cincinnati Bell.

It also assumes that operator Transdev will agree to take about half of the money owed to it under the contract, which is $1.8 million.

Some streetcar supporters have suggested resuming service with shorter hours of operation and using a surplus of $5 million in the city’s transit fund.

Bauman fears the city’s moves will damage its relationship with the FTA. Cincinnati is expected to seek millions in funding from the FTA to help construct a bus rapid transit line that voters approved last year.

“It’s outrageous,” Bauman said. “Why are we risking the possibility of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grants for projects because of philosophical hatred for the project?”

The streetcar was the eighth-most ridden Metro transit route in 2019, with ridership increasing by 12 percent over the 2018 level.

During the first 11 weeks of 2020, ridership was up 18 percent although patronage has trailed initial projections used to justify building the line.

Some streetcar supporters have accused the city of mismanaging the handling of the streetcar network in its early months of operation, including failing to address cars and trucks blocking the streetcar.

They also say the city has yet to conduct a study of the economic effect of the streetcar project.

The Cincinnati Business Courier reported in 2016 that developers and building owners made $160 million in investments in 183 properties directly on the streetcar line.

A survey of property owners found 60 percent saying the streetcar was a factor in their decision to invest, accounting for $25 million of those dollars.

Council member Mann said the streetcar budget should be reviewed by the budget committee after it has completed its review of the overall city budget for the next fiscal year and he said he still favors having the streetcar line.

“I think there’s more pluses than minuses,” Mann said. “We’ve got the Haile Foundation money to protect. I think we’ll do a better job if we deal with the streetcar issues later.”

Cincinnati Streetcar to Mark 2nd Anniversary

September 5, 2018

The second anniversary of the Cincinnati Bell Connector street car will be observed on Sept. 9.

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority said that through mid-August the 3.6-mile streetcar system had provided 1,221,606 trips since it began service.

“We’ve seen an increase in ridership during the weekday peak periods as service reliability and on-time performance has improved,” said SORTA spokeswoman Brandy Jones. “Weekends and special events continue to yield high ridership as well.”

The system, which is operated by Transdev, charges $1 for a two-hour pass and $2 for an all day pass.

Cincinnati Streetcar Needs Ways to Boost Ridership, Revenue

June 2, 2018

The Cincinnati streetcar system is in trouble.

Since opening in September 2016, the Cincinnati Bell Connector has been plagued with disappointing ridership, slow service and ticket machine problems.

Ridership in January 2018 was half of what it was in January 2017.

The Cincinnati Enquirer noted that Kansas City, Missouri, opened a streetcar system at about the same time that is similar in structure as the Cincinnati Bell Connector, but has been far more successful.

Whereas the Cincinnati Bell Connector carried 578,641 passengers in 2017, Kansas City had 2,060,425 passengers.

The Enquirer said that although the streetcar has spurred economic development, there’s been no official measure of how much growth it has stimulated in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood or in downtown Cincinnati.

The streetcars themselves have experienced failures with their air compressors, heating, braking, propulsion and power and may need to be rebuilt.

There have been so many problems with the CAF-USA cars that the City of Cincinnati has stopped paying CAF to make repairs.

The Kansas City streetcars were also built by CAF but have had far fewer problems.

Transdev, the operator of the Cincinnati Bell Connector, has had problems staffing the system and its streetcar contract was bid at $3.3 million, which is less than what it’s costing Transdev to operate the system.

Advertising, naming rights and fare revenues have all been below estimates, causing the streetcar to operate at a deficit.

Advertising revenue has been nearly $150,000 short of projections and fare revenue has come up $28,107 short.

The task of reversing the fortunes of the Cincinnati Bell Connector has been given to Cincinnati Councilman Greg Landsman, who has issued a five-point plan to bolster ridership and improve finances and management of the system.

Landsman has proposed that the city hire a new director to provide cohesive leadership, create a nonprofit agency to oversee the project, complete a traffic study, develop a marketing campaign, and resolve issues that continue to block streetcars from moving.

Landsman’s ideas will be reviewed as council goes through the 2019 budget process that must be complete by June 30.

The streetcar was originally designed to link downtown Cincinnati and the University of Cincinnati. But controversy over its development led to it terminating in Over-the-Rhine. As operated today, it runs on a 3.6-mile loop.

An Enquirer story about the performance of the Cincinnati Bell Connector to date noted that another issue facing the system is that it has three bosses.

Issues facing the streetcar network might be resolved by the city, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority or Transdev.

In speaking to the council recently, Landsman, who was elected last November, said his approach is the result of having fresh eyes.

“A lot of people are understandably exhausted, having been working on this for years. We like solving problems and this particular issue has plenty of problems to solve, he said.

The idea of creating a non-profit agency to run the Cincinnati Bell Connector is being borrowed from Kansas City, where a nonprofit agency that runs the streetcar has a board of directors of 12 people, all of whom live or work along the streetcar route.

The Enquirer said having such a board to oversee the streetcar would provide needed leadership, noting that Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley isn’t a fan of the streetcar and unsuccessfully sought to halt its development in 2013.

“The project needs a leader,” said John Schneider, an activist who backed the streetcar’s development. “It needs somebody at city hall who can design the streetcar for success.”

One way that Kansas City has stimulated ridership of its streetcar line is offering free rides.

Balky ticket machines have hindered ridership on the Cincinnati Bell Connector although the bugs with the machine have been fixed.

Many of the mechanical problems that have plagued the Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcars arose last January during harsh winter weather.

The car air compressors experienced problems that meant the cars could not run reliably in the cold and for four days during a particular cold snap no cars ran at all.

Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black has said the mechanical problems are fleet wide and the long-term solution is to redesign certain systems on the cars.

“CAF built these vehicles and must fix them, and we are fully engaging them including through the City Solicitor’s office,” Black said.

Staff turnover at operator Transdev has exacerbated the problems of the Cincinnati streetcar, which is now on its fifth Cincinnati general manager and fifth maintenance manager.

The turnover in top management has been due to such issues as retirements, health issues and firings.

Last December all four maintenance workers were on leave, although the company says they are all back on the job and the workforce has been stabilized.

A consultant’s report estimated it would cost $3.3 million a year to run the streetcar, including having wait times of 10 minutes between trains at peak-use times.

But that project turned out to be in error and more cars have had to be run in order to meet that 10-minute target, which has driven up costs.

“Every streetcar project has a unique set of startup challenges and the Cincinnati Bell Connector is no different,” said Bernie McCall, chief operating officer Transdev’s rail division. “Transdev will continue to deploy the needed resources and work with our partners at the city, SORTA and CAF to ensure the Connector runs effectively and safely.”

Cincinnati Streetcar Added Weekend Trips

May 25, 2017

Robust ridership has prompted the Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcar system to run additional cars on weekends.

Since opening in September 2016, there had been 511,196 passenger trips over the 3.6-mile streetcar line through May 16.

Transdev, the streetcar line’s operator, said weekend ridership levels have been 300 percent to more than 500 percent higher than what transit officials projected.

The Cincinnati streetcar line connects the city’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood with the riverfront.

Cincy Streetcar Names New GM

January 7, 2017

Luke McCaul has been named general manager of the Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcar system.

Luke Mc

Luke McCaul

He replaces Mark Young, who has been interim GM after the November resignation of John Lee.

The streetcar system is managed by Transdev under a five-year contract. Operations began last July.

McCaul served as general manager of operations for Pan Am Railways and oversaw the daily operation of 136 Boston-area passenger trains and more than 60 freight trains.

He started at Pan Am in 2002 as train operations manager and also has held positions of assistant director and general superintendent.

Cincinnati Streetcar GM Retires

November 5, 2016

The general manager of the Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcar system has resigned.

CVG streetcarJohn Lee stepped down from his post has resigned and has been replaced as interim GM by Mark Young. Both men are employees of Transdev, which operates the system under contract.

Lee came to Cincinnati in September when public service began after serving as GM for a light-rail system in Escondido, California.

A Transdev spokesperson said Lee had decided to retire from the company and that his family still lives on the West Coast.

Young, previously was Transdev’s national streetcar mobilization manager, GM for the Atlanta Streetcar and director of safety and security for the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority.

In an unrelated development, singer, actor and Cincinnati native Nick Lachey has agreed to become the voice of the streetcar, telling passengers which stop they are approaching.

“As a native Cincinnatian and someone who went to school in OTR (Over the Rhine) for many years, I am honored to be a part of the Cincinnati Bell Connector and the role that it will play in the revitalization of this great neighborhood,” Lachey said in a statement.

His voice will be heard aboard the streetcars by the end of the year.

Cincy Streetcar Weekend Service Boosted

October 11, 2016

Prompted by higher than expected ridership, the operator of the Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcar has increased weekend service.

CVG streetcarTransdev said weekend ridership has been 300 percent to 500 percent higher than projected by the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority.

The increase in service was also in response to threats by city officials to take Transdev to court if it didn’t boost service. The city would argue that the operator wasn’t meeting its contractual obligations.

The city’s contract with Transdev mandates that passengers shouldn’t wait more than 15 minutes for a streetcar to arrive at a stop.

Cincy Streetcar Ridership Topping Expectations

October 4, 2016

Ridership of the new Cincinnati streetcar line has in the first two weeks of operation exceeded projectors despite some teething issues the system has encountered.

CVG streetcarAmong the issues of the Cincinnati Bell Connector have been inoperative credit card readers, lack of enough cars running on weekends, and transit times that have not lived up to their billing.

Some riders have told city officials that the pay kiosks are difficult to operate.

In the first two weeks of operation, the streetcar system recorded 70,292 rides and earned $47,755 in revenue.

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority said the revenue is a quarter of what is needed to fund the system for the remainder of 2016.

“People are forming an impression; we want it to be as positive as possible,” Councilwoman Yvette Simpson said.

Assistant City Manager John Juech said that despite the issues, operation of the system has gone well.

“Various things come up. I think that is normal with a system of this magnitude,” he said.

Kim Green, executive director of Genfare, the company subcontracted to program the fare machines, told city council members that the machines would be fixed soon, but re-configuring how the machines work will take longer to achieve.

In the meantime, the counting sensors and its supporting software are now providing an accurate ridership count.

Many trips have not made their schedule, which city officials attributed to streetcars getting caught in traffic and having to halt at traffic signals.

The city hopes to undertake a traffic pattern study and in the meantime may tweak some of the traffic signals in an effort to speed up the streetcars.

The current schedule calls for cars to arrive at every stop on 15-minute headways.

More than 50,000 Rode Cincinnati Streetcar

September 16, 2016

More than 50,000 people rode the Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcar line during its opening weekend of Sept. 9-11.

CVG streetcarThe system recorded 50,646 passenger trips with rides over 3.6-mile line being free. The highest ridership was posted on Friday with 18,141 trips,

Normal fares are $1 for two hours and $2 for an all-day pass.

Dwight Ferrell, chief executive officer and general manager of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, which manages the streetcar system, called the opening weekend a tremendous success.

“The new streetcar service has made Cincinnati a true multimodal city and is living up to its promise of connecting people and places, improving quality of life and spurring economic development,” Ferrell said.