Transit & Mobility as a Service
Transit Critical to Meeting Mobility, Air Quality Goals
Transit is already an integral part of our region. Buses move more than 21,000 commuters to jobs every day and serve many more thousands in daily trips for goods and services. Furthermore, transit is desirable for reducing congestion, which in turn reduces the need for roadway expansion projects and decreases vehicle emissions. These are critical components in this plan’s strategy for meeting mobility and air quality needs.
In addition, transit provides travel opportunities to those for whom auto ownership or use is not a possible or preferred option. A full-size bus filled to capacity with riders replaces about 44 automobiles, which would otherwise be on the roadway as single-occupant vehicles (SOV). It is in the region’s interest to make public transportation widely available as an alternative to SOV travel. (top photo courtesy of TANK)
Existing Bus Service
There are six major public transit systems that provide bus service in the OKI region. Each of the eight OKI counties is served by at least one public transit agency. Since 2014, public bus transport in the OKI region has experienced an overall decrease in ridership of 2.6 million people. This is about a 12 percent drop in ridership between 2014 and 2018.
Bus transit providers are faced with many challenges in providing safe and efficient service. Most often, funding for staff and vehicles is the critical factor impacting ridership. For example, Ohio ranks 42nd in the U.S. in state-level transit funding – despite having the 14th highest ridership among the states. Local transit agencies have taken an active role to reverse ridership decline. SORTA recently passed their Reinventing Metro plan, and TANK is working on a system redesign to emphasize more frequent service in their densely populated corridors.
Butler County Regional Transit Authority
The mission of the Butler County Regional Transit Authority (BCRTA) is “to support Butler County’s quality of life and economic development through public transportation solutions.”
Butler County Commissioners formed BCRTA in 1994. It remains the designated grantee for federal and state transportation funds within the Butler County portion of the Cincinnati Urbanized Area.
- The agency is governed by a nine-member Board of Trustees appointed by the Butler County Commissioners. BCRTA was formed to:
- Provide access to health and human service programs;
- Foster the economic development and vitality of the county by providing better access to jobs, education, shopping and government services;
- Conserve energy and reduce pollution; and
- Serve as a broker of transportation services for various county boards and agencies that wish to contract with BCRTA to manage their transportation needs.
Since 2005, BCRTA has operated countywide, general public transit services in Butler County, Ohio. Without local funding support, service options and growth have relied on service contracts and partnerships with the City of Middletown, Miami University and others. These contracts and partnerships have allowed BCRTA to increase one-way trips from 2,720 in 2005 to 508,084 in 2018. In addition, BCRTA contracts with SORTA to provide service to and from Butler County Park & Rides and downtown Cincinnati. In 2018, BCRTA and SORTA generated 101,752 one-way trips provided under this Park & Ride mutual agreement.
BCRTA also provides transit services that include fixed-route; complementary ADA services in the City of Oxford, Ohio; weekday commuter services connecting the urban centers of Middletown, Oxford and Hamilton; weekday fixed route connections to the Hamilton County’s Metro bus services; on-demand, curb-to-curb services; and shopping and group shuttle services.
BCRTA fixed-route and commuter services are offered at a $2.00 one-way trip. The fare for BCRTA on-demand, curb-to-curb services is $5.00 per one-way trip and covers over 500 square miles in Butler County. From 2008 to 2015, BCRTA operated a reduced fare medical shuttle funded through a New Freedom grant. From 2010 to 2015, BCRTA operated a $5.00 job shuttle funded through a Job Access Reverse Commute (JARC) grant. Although both shuttles proved very successful and operated at capacity, MAP-21 discontinued support for these funded programs.
BCRTA maintains an administrative and maintenance facility in Fairfield Township, along with a satellite office and bus storage area in the Oxford. BCRTA operates with a $6.2 million budget, employs about 100 full- and part-time persons and has a fleet of 47 vehicles.
The demand for affordable, convenient and reliable mobility options in Butler County continues to grow. BCRTA works with the Transit Alliance of Butler County, a local nonprofit charged with finding approaches to meet mobility needs through coordination of local resources. They seek more partnerships and collaborations to increase regional access for Butler County residents and visitors to jobs, job training, medical services and other quality of life opportunities. BCRTA is the only transit agency in the OKI region that has experienced an increase in ridership over the past five years, and this increase is significant. Between 2013 and 2018, BCRTA has had a 45 percent increase in ridership.
The Catch-A-Ride transit system started in Dearborn County in June 1997, under the name Southeast Indiana Transit (SEIT). It is a public passenger transportation system provided by the Southeastern Indiana Regional Planning Commission. The system is operated by the nonprofit LifeTime Resources, Inc. Catch-A-Ride operates in Dearborn, Decatur, Jefferson, Ohio, Ripley and Switzerland counties in southeast Indiana. A shared-ride service, Catch-A-Ride is available to individuals of all ages and incomes, with scheduled pickup and arrival times.
Catch-A-Ride operates a demand response service, based on individual requests, which are taken on a first-come, first-served basis. It serves small towns and rural counties in the service area. Examining data for their Dearborn County service area only, Catch-A-Ride experienced a 30-percent decrease in ridership between 2010 and 2014 — a result of funding lost when the Section 5317 program ended. However, since 2014, Catch-A-Ride has experienced an about 14- percent growth in Dearborn County trips. There are no specified pick up times or locations, and no structured routes, although some routes do have service-area boundaries. This is an origin-to-destination service where drivers will offer a helping hand, as needed, to ensure that individuals reach their destination safely.
Clermont Transportation Connection
Clermont Transportation Connection (CTC) is the primary provider of public transportation in Clermont County. The agency, founded in 1977 as Clermont Area Rural Transit (CART), has continued to evolve. CTC now offers three fixed routes in addition to its Dial-A-Ride services and Non-Emergency Medical Transportation (NET) services. Route 1 Eastgate-Felicity Shuttle operates Tuesdays and Thursdays. It provides service between the town of Felicity, the Amelia area and the Eastgate Mall area. Route 2X provides non-stop express service from the Rivertown Market Park & Ride in New Richmond to downtown Cincinnati. Route 4X provides non-stop service between Amelia and downtown Cincinnati. CTC provides four free Park & Ride lots in their service area, including three along Route 4X (Amelia Express) and one for Route 2X (New Richmond Express).
The transit agency was operated by an independent board until October 1997, becoming a direct department of the Clermont County Commissioners. Until 2000, Clermont County was classified as a rural county and as such, the state provided operating funds to CTC. With the 2000 Census, Clermont County was re-categorized as an urban county, ending the state’s provision of operating funds. Funding has been a challenge for CTC since that time. Ridership has also been a challenge.
The Clermont County Transportation Connection operates 30 vehicles and provides intra-county Dial-A-Ride service and Non-Emergency Medical Transportation (NET) in addition to three fixed routes. Dial-A-Ride service is available from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday. NET service is available from 4:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Fixed route service is available from 5:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Standard Dial-A-Ride fares are $4.75 for adults, $3.75 for students and $2.35 for children, senior citizens and persons with disabilities. Fixed route fares are $3.75 for adults, $2.75 for students and $1.85 for children, senior citizens and persons with disabilities. CTC sells Ride Cards good for 10 rides on fixed routes at the rate of $33.00 for adults, $25.00 for students, $16.50 for children, senior citizens and persons with disabilities. NET service is free for Medicaid-eligible persons going to and from eligible medical appointments.
Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority
The largest public transit operator in the OKI region is SORTA. SORTA’s designated service area covers Hamilton County, with areas of Butler, Clermont and Warren counties served on a contractual basis. SORTA’s fixed-route service, called Metro, comprises 23 local routes, 21 express commuter and reverse commute services, one limited stop service, and the downtown parking shuttle.
Metro operates a primarily radial network of local and express routes focused on downtown Cincinnati. Local transit service mainly runs on local streets and makes stops about every 800 to 1,200 feet. Express routes operate on local streets and highways with fewer stops. A limited service with stops every half mile to one mile operates on Montgomery Road and Vine Street, between downtown, uptown, Norwood and Kenwood. In the summer, Metro operates an express connection route to King’s Island Amusement Park. To better serve changing travel patterns, Metro also operates three east-west crosstown routes to directly connect non-downtown locations. In 2018 SORTA provided just under 14 million rides to its customers. Metro also provides bus service to Cincinnati Public School high school students (grades 7-12) on schooldays.
Metro’s 357-bus fleet is accessible to persons with disabilities and feature wheelchair lifts or ramps. High-floor buses have been phased out of service; and all Metro buses are equipped with two bicycle racks on the front of each bus. In addition to the lift-equipped service, SORTA operates the Access Ride program, a shared-ride transportation service using wheelchair-accessible vehicles. The Access Ride service area is all areas within a three-quarter-mile of a fixed-route service, as required by the ADA. The service now has a fleet of 46 vehicles that provided 231,000 one-way trips in 2018, up nearly 17 percent since 2014.
Renovated in 2005, Government Square in downtown Cincinnati is Metro’s primary transit center. In 2013 Metro completed the construction of the Uptown Transit District, a multi-site bus station network connecting routes serving the University of Cincinnati and the hospital cluster. Metro also runs two transit centers at Glenway Crossing (Westwood) and the Oakley Transit Center (Oakley), which was built in 2018; another transit center is being built in Northside. These centers aid transfers between major bus routes and offer pleasant and safe areas for waiting passengers.
With its four separate hubs, the Uptown Transit District is unlike a conventional transit center. These hubs are major transfer sites for bus riders, providing connections to local shuttles to U.C. and neighboring hospitals.
The four Uptown hubs are:
• University of Cincinnati on Jefferson and at University avenues
• Hospital Area on Burnet Avenue
• Clifton Heights Business District/Hughes Street Corner
• Vine Street between McMillan and Calhoun streets
Metro owns or leases 21 free Park-and-Ride facilities throughout its service area, with only two inside the City of Cincinnati limits. Park-and-Ride sizes range from 10 to 200 spots and have convenient express routes to Downtown Cincinnati. Park-and-Ride lot information can be found below and is also available online.
For more than three years, OKI, along with local business, government and transportation leaders have been meeting to seek solutions to the region’s transit challenges. One of the options explored is Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), a faster, limited-stop transit service that runs in its own right-of-way, making it unaffected by traffic congestion. BRT is a term applied to a variety of public transportation systems using buses to provide faster, more efficient service than an ordinary bus line.
Locally a BRT line would feature at a minimum dedicated bus lanes for more than half of its route, smart traffic signals that allow buses to move through intersections, and bus stations with shelter, seating, lighting, ticket vending machines, schedule information, and more. Frequent service on these routes would create high capacity rapid transit spines to decrease travel times for many Metro riders. The goal of these systems is to approach the quality of rail transit service, with the cost savings and flexibility of bus transit.
In 2014, METRO launched their new Metro*Plus limited stop service along the Montgomery Road corridor, connecting uptown and downtown to Kenwood, with stops about a half-mile to one-mile apart. The route, which does not offer any of the infrastructure upgrades that would come with BRT, cut travel times and relieve crowding on the local Route 4 by offering a faster alternative for many existing Route 4 riders. Figure 4 shows possible future BRT routes in the Metro service area.
Major bus hubs have the potential to integrate retail stores, restaurants or other establishments that cater to transit riders and the surrounding community. Bringing together such amenities has the potential of enhancing commercial and residential areas and providing an economic development stimulus. Transit hubs are equipped with facilities for parking bicycles to encourage bicycle use and ease automobile parking requirements. These parking facilities should include bike lockers and covered bike racks suitable for securing the frame of the bike. Metro also works with local and regional planners to connect bike facilities and paths to bus service, with the goal of making biking to the bus stop safer and more efficient.
SORTA and the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK) have an inter-local agreement to allow close coordination of the two transit systems. SORTA works with other area transit systems to form a comprehensive transit network. The network comprises four Ohio counties, three Northern Kentucky counties and Southeast Indiana. As part of the coordinated effort, SORTA and TANK offer shared fare media including a 30-day rolling pass, one-day pass, stored value card, and transfers between the two systems.
Through agreements with local universities, SORTA offers discount bus fare for qualifying people. The UC*Metro EZ-Ride and Cincinnati State Metro Discount Card programs offer rides for one dollar for students, faculty, and staff regardless of zone; and transfers remain at 50 cents. These programs are subsidized by the schools.
Uptown Smart Center
The project is a multi-modal transportation facility, which would be a Metro fixed-route bus hub with restrooms, bike share, and real-time schedule information. It will also contain a shuttle hub with shuttles that serve educational facilities, numerous hospitals and satellite offices, entertainment venues, and more. These shuttles would provide a “one seat ride” from transit to final destination in the uptown area (and other locations). The upper levels of the facility would provide automobile parking for adjacent office buildings.
The Smart Center will be located on Martin Luther King Drive near the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. This location is especially suited for a multi-modal hub, due to its direct access to Interstate 71. There are multiple Metro routes that pass through the nearby area. There is also a planned bicycle facility along MLK, with the possibility of connecting to the Wasson Way Trail. This complements the many new development opportunities available after the completion of the new I-71 and MLK interchange. (The City of Cincinnati was awarded CMAQ funds for FY2023 in September 2017.)
Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky
The Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK) provides public transit service in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties as well as downtown Cincinnati. In 2019 TANK carried more than three million passengers and operated more than four million miles. TANK receives funding from the three Northern Kentucky counties. Demand for transit services has grown with the growth in employment options, particularly south of I-275. TANK has incorporated processes to pilot new service to meet growing demands, while testing the service for long-term viability prior to incorporation into the service on a permanent basis.
TANK’s fixed-route bus operation has 112 coaches, all lift and bicycle rack equipped, operating 27 routes of local and express service. TANK operates seven days a week with 75 vehicles in service during morning and afternoon rush hours alone. Fares for local service are currently $1.50 for adults, $1 for students and 75 cents for senior citizens and the physically disabled. The Southbank Shuttle Trolley, TANK’s riverfront circulator route in downtown Cincinnati, Covington and Newport, also has a fare of $1. TANK’s express routes operate on the interstate highway system and have a fare of $2.
TANK has 17 Park & Ride sites throughout Northern Kentucky. The newest is the Florence Hub, which was constructed in 2013, and serves as both a park and ride for downtown commuters, and a transfer location for multiple routes. In 2017, significant renovations were made to the Covington Transit Center, TANK’s main transfer facility in downtown Covington.
Paratransit: TANK also operates RAMP—a door-to-door demand response transportation service for people who cannot use the regular fixed-route service. The fare for ADA RAMP service is $2.50 per trip and reservations are required.
TANK and Northern Kentucky University (NKU) have partnered to establish the U-Pass Program, which began July 1, 2007. U-Pass provides free transportation on all TANK routes for NKU students, faculty and staff; it was later expanded to serve students at Gateway Community and Technical College. Unlimited rides are available on all TANK routes. The programs are funded by NKU and Gateway Community and Technical College.
In May 2019, TANK began a system redesign planning process that will dramatically alter the current route network and schedules. Possibly the greatest project since the public agency’s beginning in 1972, the redesign is a bold response to 7-year trends in ridership decline and regional demographic shifts. The plan’s goals are to maximize ridership based on existing funds, increase access/travel time to jobs, and create a more financially sustainable future for TANK.
Research has shown that improving bus frequency and span in high-density corridors is a productive strategy to maximize ridership. Rather than providing a lot of regional coverage (and therefore limited service), transit agencies are improved by directing resources where the most people live. This is the direction TANK has been instructed to take by its funding partners. The final plan is anticipated for adoption in April 2020.
Warren County Transit System
The Warren County Transit System (WCTS) was established by Warren County in August 1980. It manages 19 light transit lift-equipped vehicles. WCTS provides demand response public transportation service to all of Warren County, as well as several stops in Butler County and the City of Dayton. A flex route runs throughout the City of Lebanon. The fare is $3 for a one-way trip. Discounted rates are available to elderly and physically disabled passengers at $1.50. The system runs 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding certain holidays.
Future Transit Vision Plan
In 2002, SORTA, with help from OKI and its members, developed a regional rail plan. This initial plan had several recommendations of support for a public rail passenger service in the OKI region. In that time, several other studies on passenger rail service, and similar types of public, non-SOV transport, have been conducted.
The OKI 2040 Plan included all of the recommendations developed in the 2002 Regional Rail Plan. Refinements have been made over the past 14 years, as a part of a rail vision plan and separate from the fiscally constrained portion of the plan. This plan, the OKI 2050 Plan, has further narrowed these recommendations, which are presented here as a part of the Future Transit Vision, a section that is still supplemental to the fiscally constrained portion of the plan.
I-71 Light Rail Transit and CVG Light Rail Vision
The I-71 alignment extends between southwestern Warren County and the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in Boone County. It would provide the foundation for creating a more multimodal regional transportation system. This line would provide a corridor for connecting light rail segments, commuter rail lines, bus rapid transit routes and other bus routes. It would also serve some of the most densely populated parts of our region, connecting CVG Airport to Kings Mills via Covington and downtown Cincinnati.
Southeastern Public Transit Vision
The Southeastern alignment connects downtown Cincinnati with Northern Kentucky University following the I-471 corridor.
I-75 Public Transit Vision
The I-75 alignment runs parallel to I-75 for much of its length. This potential exclusive guideway extends from Cincinnati north to I-275 and the West Chester/Union Centre Boulevard area. Converging with the I-71 alignment near Xavier University, it would provide access from the northern suburbs to downtown Cincinnati and CVG Airport.
Western Public Transit Vision
The Western alignment proposes a public transit link from downtown Cincinnati to Green Township in western Hamilton County. Due to private development and the lack of remaining freight rail right of way, the alignment is proposed to follow Central Parkway and the I-74 corridor. It would provide connectivity between downtown Cincinnati and growing urban neighborhoods, such as Camp Washington and Northside, as well as western suburbs along the busy I-74 corridor.
Future Streetcar Vision
At this time, no streetcar extensions are recommended as a part of the fiscally constrained portion of this plan. However, future extensions of the streetcar network are included in this plan as part of the Future Streetcar Vision, below.
Cincinnati Streetcar Segments
The Cincinnati Streetcar is intended to serve as a circulator to link future rail and bus routes.
Phase 1: Northern Kentucky Streetcar extension from Downtown Cincinnati to Newport.
Phase 1B: Uptown Connector (Over-The-Rhine to University of Cincinnati/Vine to Corry streets)
Phase 2: Uptown Circulator (Multiple alignments being considered. All alignments extend roughly from Corry Street to Erkenbrecher Avenue)
Phase 3: East – West Connector (Cincinnati Museum Center to Broadway/Jack Cincinnati Casino) Northern Kentucky Streetcar Segment
Transit and Congestion Management
In 2018, nearly 20 million passenger trips in the region were accommodated by public transit vehicles. That equates to 8.8 transit trips per capita. Nearly all of the transit trips occur on the Congestion Management Network; therefore highway congestion directly impacts transit travel. Increasing transit ridership helps reduce demand on the highway system.
The OKI travel demand model estimates that public transportation eliminates over 10,000 daily person trips by automobile. Additional public transportation improvements may be used as mitigation strategies to address roadway congestion by eliminating additional automobile trips. The expansion of bus transit service, the introduction of rail transit service, new or expanded park and ride facilities, adding transit signal priority, bus-rapid-transit and reserved bus travel lanes or expanded bus-on-shoulder are all possible strategies. The expansion of transit traveler information systems would also make transit more attractive for users. More information on congestion management strategies can be found in the 2020 OKI Congestion Management Process (CMP) Report.
Transit Technologies and Mobility as a Service
Technology influences where and how we work, live, shop and recreate, as well as how we communicate with one another. This section explores the emerging technologies in mass transit as they are most likely to affect and influence surface transportation infrastructure recommendations to the year 2050.
While fixed public transit routes remain critical for the foreseeable future, innovative services are utilizing technology to increase the flexibility and convenience of on-demand travel. Mobility (or Transportation) as a Service (MaaS or TaaS) is the delivery, through an integrated digital platform and across all available modes of transport, of seamless, infinitely adaptable, personal mobility services. MaaS through Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), such as Uber and Lyft, has the potential to supplement existing fixed bus routes. In some cases, MaaS occurs through public/private partnerships to provide on-demand, dynamic microtransit service. MaaS can also apply to carsharing services, bikesharing, e-scooters, streetcar, taxis, parking facilities, fuel/energy sources, and others.
At the heart of MaaS is its paradigm shift from personal vehicle ownership to the shared use of service providers for transportation via personal mobile devices. MaaS combined with Shared, Autonomous/Electric Vehicle technology (SA/EV), was examined by OKI staff as part of the development of this 2050. Our analysis determined that until Shared SA/EV usage becomes a significant percent of daily trips, OKI’s goal for transit technology application should be to increase transit productivity, efficiency, and accessibility; mitigating congestion in an integrated transportation environment; and providing travelers with better transportation information and transit services through numerous strategies. General transit technology applications are highlighted below and were considered in developing this plan.
Smart Mobility Hubs
Mobility Hubs are transportation centers located at major transit stations that can provide an integrated suite of mobility options, amenities, and urban design enhancements that bridge the distance between transit and an individual’s origin or destination. They can include, but are not limited to: bikeshare, carshare, neighborhood electric vehicles, bikesharing and bike parking and support services, dynamic parking strategies, real-time traveler information, way finding, real-time ridesharing, and improved bicycle and pedestrian connectivity.
Smart Mobility Corridors
There remains a critical role for traditional mass transit agencies along key regional transportation corridors. Through partnerships with MaaS for first/last mile trips, regional public transit agencies can focus service on high-volume corridors that are linked by a network of Smart Mobility Hubs that link high concentrations of population and employment. It will become important for these corridors to be equipped with interconnected and adaptive traffic signals that can react to transit vehicles, providing preemption and ensuring reliable travel times. OKI has laid the groundwork for such corridors through its project management of the Kenton County (2014) and Boone County (2017) transportation plans and the incorporation of Enhanced Transit Corridor recommendations, along US 25/Dixie Highway and Madison Avenue/KY 17. A similar approach could be applied in Ohio to critical corridors that have been targeted for future bus rapid transit service.
Integrated On Demand MaaS and Microtransit
In an optimized system, MaaS and microtransit would address the first/last mile problem and help sustain high frequency transit routes along major corridors. Pilot projects have been deployed across the U.S., with more being funded all the time. So far, these projects have had mixed results, but the future looks promising. On its own, the scooter industry has impacted mobility in the urban core. Some of these trips are first or last mile while others are the ”only” mile. The maps below show where the highest demand is for ridesharing and e-scooters, based on data that OKI has obtained through partnerships with Uber and Bird.
E-Scooter Origin and Destination maps
As SA/EVs enter our roadway network, safety for transit riders and pedestrians is a critical regional goal. The highest rate of pedestrian/vehicle crashes occur around transit stops and more densely populated areas, including as central business districts and downtowns. Transit/pedestrian collision warning systems use GPS signals, onboard gyroscopes and accelerometers that can be integrated to analyze the bus motion during turning. These sensors together with various sensor technologies, such as laser detectors, sound detectors, and conventional cameras, should be considered in OKI-funded projects to provide better detection and distance estimation of nearby pedestrians.
The public transit improvements discussed in this chapter will have a dramatic impact on creating transit connections and fulfilling unmet needs. Just as with all transportation modes, funding will continue to be a challenge when implementing public transit improvements. To develop its potential, transit service requires the support of new investments. In addition, it is recommended that incentives and policies be created to encourage people to travel by public transportation and foster transit-friendly land use. The effectiveness of transit services is closely related to existing and future land use patterns. This plan continues to work to bring together the issues of land use and transportation planning for the OKI region.