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thomasbw

Cincinnati Streetcar / Cincinnati Bell Connector News

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10 minutes ago, taestell said:

 

You can not argue in good faith that the Enquirer has any sort of "liberal bent". Their occasional good coverage of a social issue or their endorsement of one Democratic presidential candidate in the last century does not make them liberal. They do a horrible job of covering urban development type issues and, in particular, remain extremely anti-transit. Jason Williams does not "balance" anything with his ridiculous anti-streetcar articles and op-eds, such as the time he claimed that dangerous amounts of mold were detected in the streetcar's ventilation systems, which turned out to be completely and totally false. A week later am actual mold outbreak was discovered in one of UC's dorms and the Enquirer didn't even cover it.

 

Jason Williams is Billy Cunningham but the dumb version

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6 minutes ago, IAGuy39 said:

Jason Williams is Billy Cunningham but the dumb version

 

Bill Cunningham is a smart person who plays a carnival barker on the air. Jason Williams is the kind of guy who listens to Bill Cunningham and doesn't know it's an act.

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He got taken out of his wheelhouse of going to high school football games all the time and assigned to streetcar hit pieces because he knows how to write to people who go to high school football games all the time. 

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49 minutes ago, taestell said:

 

You can not argue in good faith that the Enquirer has any sort of "liberal bent". Their occasional good coverage of a social issue or their endorsement of one Democratic presidential candidate in the last century does not make them liberal. They do a horrible job of covering urban development type issues and, in particular, remain extremely anti-transit. Jason Williams does not "balance" anything with his ridiculous anti-streetcar articles and op-eds, such as the time he claimed that dangerous amounts of mold were detected in the streetcar's ventilation systems, which turned out to be completely and totally false. A week later am actual mold outbreak was discovered in one of UC's dorms and the Enquirer didn't even cover it.

is the Enquirer the New York Times, obviously not, but it is also not the same Enquirer as it was say back in 2005-2010.  Your issue with their job covering urban development may have more to do wiht the fact it is a dying newspaper with limited staff and they do little journalistic work anymore. The days of the local paper breaking the next big scandal are over, not because of some conservative bent, but because they no longer have those resources.

 

I have been before the editorial board on more than one occasion. I would hardly call the group a bunch of conservative hacks.  Far from it. Williams represents a viewpoint that should be heard, even if it is a minority. 

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They need to keep the streetcars running during the shutdown without passengers, in order to avoid going through a full shut down process + reopening process, which Transdev estimated would cost something like $1 million.

 

I actually haven't seen any streetcars running since the shutdown, so they may only be taking each streetcar out for a loop once per week, or something like that.

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It looked like two were in the garage this morning, so they might be performing long-term maintenance on each streetcar while they have the chance.  

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Jason Williams is really going hard on this "USDOT needs to give Cincinnati permission to permanently shut down the streetcar" thing, huh?

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On 5/13/2020 at 12:22 PM, taestell said:

Jason Williams is really going hard on this "USDOT needs to give Cincinnati permission to permanently shut down the streetcar" thing, huh?

I wonder if that is a backdoor attack on BRT. If the FTA  is forced to give Cincinnati permission to permanently shut down the streetcar (and they would have to be forced FTA is not in the business of unilaterally forgiving grants). I can't imagine they would give SORTA (the original grant recipient for the streetcar funds) any money for BRT or any other discretionary grant knowing that the powers that be in the area are actively hostile to transit. 

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I doubt Williams is thinking that many steps ahead, but that is certainly true. Why would the FTA give us a big chunk of money again, if we blew it this time?

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2 hours ago, GCrites80s said:

At the same time there are no real BRT advocates, I think there are also few BRT opponents.


I think there are few BRT opponents because there are no real BRT advocates. As soon as BRT advocates spring up, the opponents will decide to fight it.

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Nashville's mid-2010s BRT plan was vociferously fought by Lee Beaman, the city's car dealership kingpin, AND the Koch Brothers:

https://www.bizjournals.com/nashville/blog/2014/04/amp-opponent-lee-beaman-still-has-issues-with.html

 

A few of Beaman's car dealerships are situated on what has become some of the most valuable land in a second-tier American City, straddling Broadway and West End Ave. near Vanderbilt University.  BRT, specifically, would have made it hard to turn in and out of his car dealerships.  He came back in opposition to the LRT subway plan, which failed at the polls in 2018, even though it wasn't going to physically affect his dealerships, but because it would have made the Davidson County sales tax higher than surrounding sales taxes (currently it is counter-intuitively lower).  

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Also, should Biden manage to oust Trump in November 2020, we might see a TIGER grant reprise in 2021.  We will no doubt witness Cranley completely ignore the opportunity to fully fund streetcar expansions with the grants in 2021 as he did 2014-2016.  

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Now that Issue 7 has passed, it's time to re-start the streetcar and make it a zero-fare system. Here are some idea on how to pay for that.

 

We’ve seen the benefits of eliminating fares in the successful Blink and Ride Free with Your Reds Ticket promotions, and it’s time to permanently increase our ridership by transitioning to a zero-fare system. Simply put, no other policy or combination of policies will be as effective for increasing ridership as removing the fare barrier.

 

Fare-free Kansas City has five times the ridership as our system. Tampa had middling ridership for a decade that tripled almost overnight after going zero-fare, and Milwaukee has 50% higher ridership than our system using a sponsorship zero-fare model. Washington DC and Tacoma are two other examples of high ridership zero-fare streetcar systems.

 

Ideally this restart would also be accompanied by signal prioritization, re-timing of signals, re-timing of the pedestrian walk phases at the mid-block crossings on Walnut and Main and Green and Race (these signals alone add 1 minute and 16 seconds to every single streetcar trip, this is the lowest hanging fruit), and increased enforcement related to blocking the tracks; however, re-launching with a zero-fare system will be the biggest driver of increased ridership.

 

Net Fare revenue for the CBC for FY20 is estimated at $70,834. Currently Transdev pays for the cost of the CPD Officers on the streetcars checking fares (estimated at a cost of $120,000 per year). If we move to zero-fare, I believe the City of Cincinnati will have to take over the cost of security, increasing the total cost for a zero-fare system to $150,000.

 

To reach our goal of a zero-fare system, we can either raise the $150,000 or reduce the cost of going zero-fare. One easy cost saver would be to use Downtown Ambassadors rather than uniformed CPD Officers to provide security on the CBC. Another potential cost saver would be to negotiate with Transdev and see if we could get them to agree to perhaps splitting the cost of security on the CBC, potentially saving them $60,000.

 

On the increasing revenue side, here are my suggestions. The entire $150,000 (or less if we use Downtown Ambassadors for security) doesn’t have to be raised by a single new or expanded source of revenue, several of the below options could be employed to raise the total amount needed:

 

1.     Restore Parking Meters at Washington Park- When Washington Park was renovated, all the parking around the park was removed. By my rough estimation, there’s room for about 57 parking spaces. The revenue from those meters would cover the lion’s share of the amount we need to raise for a zero-fare system and add 57 much needed new parking spots to Over-the-Rhine.

2.     Increase Parking Infraction Fine $3- Increasing the fine for parking tickets from $65 to $68 would raise enough money to make the streetcar zero-fare.

3.     Increased Advertising Revenue- Increasing ridership will increase the value of advertising on the streetcar and may attract new advertisers. Additionally, we should expand where ads can be placed on the streetcars and at the stops. Sell ads on everything, every seat, the floors of the cars, the ceilings, put special panels on the railings at the stops. A free, gaudy system will attract more riders than we have presently. 

4.     Use a Portion of the Proposed Over-the-Rhine Special Improvement District- The proposed OTR SID will generate $650,000 per year. Either increasing the size of the SID ask or using a portion of the SID could cover some of the cost of free fares.

5.     Add FC Cincinnati Stadium to the SID- The current SID footprint is just OTR south of Liberty. Adding the FC Cincinnati Stadium to the SID would generate more than enough for free fares.

6.     Add North of Liberty to SID- Arguably nowhere along the streetcar line benefits more than North of Liberty. Extending the SID to cover this area would be a logical expansion and help fund free fares.

7.     Add Pendleton to the SID- The Pendleton Community Council boundaries extend all the way to Main Street, so the streetcar is located in Pendleton according to their Community Council Boundaries. Extending the SID to include Pendleton could increase the funding available for free fares.

8.     Pendleton Park by Phone- In Over-the-Rhine, there are places where you can park by phone in the residential parking district during the day. This program could be expanded to Pendleton’s residential parking district and the revenue used to fund a zero-fare system.

9.     3rd Party Service Provider Contract Reduction- If we could identify a 3rd party service provider (for example, if Paycor did the City’s payroll) who would agree to reduce their contract price by $150,000, we could then offer to give them the advertising for underwriting free fares. The cost to the 3rd Party wouldn’t be the full amount, only what their profit margin would have been on the service, but the savings to the City of Cincinnati would be the same.

10.  New Community Authority Funding- The Banks has a new community authority that generates approximately $500,000 a year from a 1% sales tax. Using 10% of this fund to increase connectivity to the Banks with a zero-fare streetcar could boost business at the Banks, especially during the Reds and Bengals offseason.

11.  Voluntary “New Community Authority”- While a New Community Authority has specific requirements regarding property ownership in the district, several of the larger landlords along the route (e.g. 3CDC, Model, Urban Sites) could agree to include a “voluntary” surcharge in their leases and use these funds to underwrite free fares.

12.  Federal CMAQ Funding- OKI distributes congestion mitigation/air quality funds from the Federal Government. The CBC is a zero-emission vehicle that also uses much less street space per passenger than any other motorized form of transportation in the region, we might be eligible for funding under this program.

13.  Parking Ticket Amnesty- The City of Cincinnati is owed over $10 million in unpaid parking tickets. We could propose a one-time amnesty and use the money raised for free fares several years.

14.  Sell Outstanding Parking Tickets to a Debt Collector- If allowed by law, we could sell the outstanding parking tickets to a debt collector. If they buy it up for ten cents on the dollar, that could endow free fares for about eight years if the principal can make a 3% return on investment.

15.  Garage Naming Rights- The City of Cincinnati owns several garages in the urban core. We could sell the naming rights and use the funds to help cover free fares. A free streetcar might make garages like the one at 9th and Vine more popular and increase parking revenue there as well.

16.  Reducing Service Hours, Redistributing Funds- Currently we have abysmally low ridership in the very early morning and very late at night. If we cut service during these hours, we can either re-distribute them to when we have high ridership or use the savings to make the system zero-fare.

17.  Property Taxes from Fountain Square West- The City of Cincinnati has been paying approximately $600,000 in property taxes annually for this property. If we use 25% of what we had spent on those property taxes, we can make the system free.

18.  "Kill Grill" Increased Parking Costs- There’s been a trend in SUVs and Trucks to make the height of the hoods higher and higher. This design trend greatly increases the chance of a fatality if a pedestrian is struck. To disincentivize these vehicles, improve pedestrian safety and advance our “Vision Zero” program, we should charge higher parking rates for these unsafe vehicles and use the proceeds for a zero-fare system.

19.  Kilowatt Hour Tax- Columbus makes $3.4 million per year from a Kilowatt Hour Tax. I don’t know if the City of Cincinnati is able levy this tax or if it already does, but it might be worth looking into.

20.  Parking Tax- Cleveland charges an 8% parking tax on commercial parking facilities. If Cincinnati charges a parking tax at any rate, it should cover the cost of free fares.

21.  Private Donations- Private Companies could donate funds to make the streetcar free similar to purchasing the naming rights.

22.  Increase Parking Fines along the Route- Currently the fine for parking improperly and blocking the streetcar is $100. We should increase the fine to $250 (same as parking in a handicap space). The streetcar was deliberately made to have no steps and level boarding for maximum accessibility. Blocking it should be like blocking a handicapped space. Additionally, we should hold commercial drivers to a higher standard and increase the fine for commercial vehicles to $500 increasing to up to $1,000 for repeat offenders. One commercial citation per day would generate enough revenue for us to adopt a zero-fare policy.

23.  Eliminate First Ten Minutes Free- According to the DCI Website, the first ten minutes of parking at downtown meters are free (please confirm, this may have already been eliminated). While this program was likely designed for allowing free parking for someone going inside a store to run a quick errand, in all likelihood most people just get ten free minutes. If we eliminate this program, the additional revenue could be used for a zero-fare system. If there are business like a dry-cleaners that rely on the ten minute free parking, we could install a green ten minute free parking meter in front of their establishments.

24.  Expand the Downtown SID- The Downtown Special Improvement District will be up for renewal next year. SID’s require property owners holding 60% of the frontage to be approved. The casino is not currently in the SID. Adding the casino could increase the funds available for a zero-fare system. If casino would vote “no”, Yeatman’s Cove and Theodore M. Berry International Friendship Park could also be added to create new frontage that would counteract the casino’s “no” vote. This technique could also be used to increase the total amount raised by the SID and dedicate a small portion of those funds to a zero-fare streetcar. If the Downtown SID, OTR SID and Banks New Community Authority gave $50,000 per year each, we would have enough for a free system in perpetuity.

25.  Electric Leaf Blowers- Everyone hates leaf blowers, they’re loud, they pollute heavily and they don’t really seem to work that well. The City of Cincinnati should require electric leaf blowers, but allow non-electric leaf blowers if you pay an annual fee, perhaps $100 a year for residential uses and $1,000 a year for commercial uses.

26.  Legalized Sport Betting- In the event sports betting is legalized and it is handled by the casino commission and not the lottery, use the incremental increase in the casino fund to make a zero-fare system. 

27.  Download an App, Ride Free- This proposal wouldn’t make the streetcar a zero fare system, but could be used as a promotion to test free-fare usage. Some months ago, I attended the College Football Hall of Fame and admission was free if you downloaded the Chic-fil-a app. I downloaded the app and then deleted it after I was in the museum, but the promotion got me to download the app in the first place. I would imagine many visitors keep the app on their phone, but in the case of the streetcar, many more people will plan on riding again and retain the app. A company like Kroger or P&G might sponsor this promotion for three months at $0.50 per rider showing the app with a maximum payment of $50,000 (I’m just throwing out numbers here). Kroger benefits by getting customers to download the app and keep it on their phones and since the entire streetcar isn’t free, standard ticket checking will occur under the existing contract, reducing the City of Cincinnati’s direct costs.

 

I’m confident using one or more of the above funding sources we can cobble together the funds needed to make Cincinnati Bell Connector a zero-fare system and enable it to live up to its full potential.

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There are three places where the streetcar has a specialized signal to change lanes (Walnut between 4th and 5th, Main between 5th and 6th and Race and Elder). At all of these-

 

Midblock light goes red

Pedestrian Walk Phase (23 seconds)

Streetcar Move Phase

Light goes green.

 

Change it to

 

Midblock light goes red

Streetcar Move Phase

Pedestrian Walk Phase

Light goes green

 

We are having the streetcar wait 23 seconds even when there are no pedestrians there.

 

Change all three and that's over a minute of travel time gains every loop at almost zero cost. The pedestrians, if there are any waiting to cross there, might have to wait two or three seconds for the streetcar to move. If we made this change, most people not riding the streetcar would never even notice. 

 

So much low hanging fruit. 

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11 minutes ago, thomasbw said:

1.     Restore Parking Meters at Washington Park- When Washington Park was renovated, all the parking around the park was removed. By my rough estimation, there’s room for about 57 parking spaces. The revenue from those meters would cover the lion’s share of the amount we need to raise for a zero-fare system and add 57 much needed new parking spots to Over-the-Rhine.

10.  New Community Authority Funding- The Banks has a new community authority that generates approximately $500,000 a year from a 1% sales tax. Using 10% of this fund to increase connectivity to the Banks with a zero-fare streetcar could boost business at the Banks, especially during the Reds and Bengals offseason.

26.  Legalized Sport Betting- In the event sports betting is legalized and it is handled by the casino commission and not the lottery, use the incremental increase in the casino fund to make a zero-fare system.

 

I really like these three ideas. I think the Banks stands to benefit the most from free fairs, especially in conjunction with all the parking underneath and using the streetcar as a shuttle to get to downtown/OTR/FC games etc. I know SORTA is now divorced from the streetcar, but if the streetcar was free the need for the riverfront parking shuttle Route 85 could also be eliminated. I believe Omnicare or the Atrium center helps pay for that, so maybe just eliminate the shuttle and ask for their money to go towards the fair free streetcar instead.

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Chris Seelbach was on "That's So Cincinnati" the other day sans Jason Williams. He revealed that the streetcar was supposed to be free starting July 1st, but Cranley wanted to wait until after the bus levy was completed - which makes sense as the read between the lines conclusion when it was slated for public comment and disappeared without a trace. He was noncommittal as to when it would reopen pending budget deficit but compared it to parks, and mentioned signal priority as a priority going forward. 

 

Curious what the plan would have been to close the deficit in response to the detailed suggestions/options above by @thomasbw

 

On a related note, I personally think using the downtown ambassadors would be a better option than CPD going forward, especially if it cuts costs. If the streetcar isn't fare free right away, enforcement by ambassadors/citizens rather than police could serve as a useful pilot for a future BRT system. I don't have the source on hand but I know Higashide advocated for that move in Better Buses Better Cities as more likely to improve equity and ridership but retain the speed benefits of payment prior to boarding. Also reduces risk of unconstitutional biases in enforcement. 

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Other cities just have fare enforcement officers that work for the transit agency. I'm not sure what the primary reason was for choosing to have police officers do this job in Cincinnati. If we ever have BRT or any other bus routes that have off board fare payment, Metro will need to hire fare enforcement officers for those routes.

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22 hours ago, shawk said:

Chris Seelbach was on "That's So Cincinnati" the other day sans Jason Williams. He revealed that the streetcar was supposed to be free starting July 1st, but Cranley wanted to wait until after the bus levy was completed - which makes sense as the read between the lines conclusion when it was slated for public comment and disappeared without a trace. He was noncommittal as to when it would reopen pending budget deficit but compared it to parks, and mentioned signal priority as a priority going forward.

 

This is all good news.  I'd expect fare free to be pushed to March/April 2021.  It's just refreshing to hear that signal priority isn't forgotten either, but that may be on hold until a new mayor is elected.

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13 minutes ago, 10albersa said:

 

This is all good news.  I'd expect fare free to be pushed to March/April 2021.  It's just refreshing to hear that signal priority isn't forgotten either, but that may be on hold until a new mayor is elected.

If ridership drops 21% off projections (which is very likely with the current situation) net fare revenue would be negative for the year so there's no reason not to go zero-fare. It's safer and it's revenue neutral and it will increase ridership long term. 

 

Note: this is using FY20 numbers. FY21 numbers won't be out until June 11th.

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Good point, but there's no way FY2021 will budget for "nice-to-have's" like a free streetcar. I guess I'd target July/August 2021 then as a likely date (if the economy recovers at a normal pace)

 

They'll get eviscerated by the public for it, whether it is good for the budget or not.

Edited by 10albersa

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