That’s a question most Hamilton County voters will soon be asking. There are numerous reasons why non-riders should support expanding Metro, but let's focus on three: traffic congestion, job access, and economic development.
Traffic Congestion: Greater Cincinnati is growing. OKI predicts that the population of our region will grow from 2,072,141 people in 2015 to 2,140,614 people in 2020. A significant amount of this growth will be within Hamilton County. Even as suburban sprawl is expected to continue, Hamilton County will be the population and employment center of our region. Improved Metro bus service will need to be a part of Hamilton County’s plan to address population growth.
OKI's 2040 Regional Transportation Plan lays out the grim reality of traffic congestion in our region. In 2011, driving from CVG to Sharonville took 29 minutes during the afternoon rush hour. In 2015, that same trip at the same time took 54 minutes for a travel time increase of 86%. NKU to Sharonville travel times increased 45% from 2011 to 2015 during the afternoon rush hour. Downtown to Kings Island travel times increased 24%. These are not projected travel times. These are recorded travel times. And it's only going to get worse.
Currently, only 3% of commuters in the OKI region use transit. This small percentage will be unsustainable as our region continues to grow. If residents want Hamilton County to grow without significantly increasing traffic congestion, our county needs to increase the percentage of commuters utilizing transit. Specifically, Metro needs to attract riders of choice that own an automobile. A more robust and frequent Metro bus service funded by a county-wide sales tax would do just that.
There is one area of Hamilton County where bus service is absolutely critical: Downtown Cincinnati. 1 in 5 downtown workers commute on a Metro bus. This frees up parking for those that choose to drive to work by reducing overall demand for parking. Lower demand means lower costs for both short-term and long-term parking in Downtown Cincinnati. Metro also allows workers to circulate around the downtown area without having to move their vehicle.
Additionally, Downtown Cincinnati is slowly transforming into a regional entertainment destination. Metro is key to this economic shift. Metro service allows for convenient access to sporting events and other activities and allows visitors to skip paying for parking and cut down drunk driving. Expanded weekend and late night service would be funded through a county-wide sales tax.
Job Access: Currently, 9.8% of households in the OKI region do not own a car, while hundreds of thousands of jobs are inaccessible by public transportation. As a result, nearly 10% of our workforce is severely restricted in searching for employment and bettering their lives.
We live in a society that believes strongly in pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. Expanding Metro bus service means expanding employment opportunities to nearly 1 out of every 10 people in our community. The Cincinnati region has high rates of poverty compared to our peer cities and poor public transit has been cited as a contributing factor.
The city of Cincinnati has made major investments to tackle the issue of poverty, including Preschool Promise. It is time for Hamilton County to do its part and make investments that will positively impact upward social mobility. One way to do that would be to expand job access by investing in public transit through a county-wide sales tax.
Economic Development: Transit access improves your property value. Many businesses, residents, and developers want to be near transit. Transit-oriented development creates jobs and increases revenues collected through property taxes. According to the organization Reconnecting America, “transit-oriented development or TOD is typically defined as a more compact development within easy walking distance of transit stations (typically a half mile) that contains a mix of uses such as housing, jobs, shops, restaurants, and entertainment.”
Furthermore, they note that this is a market-driven phenomenon fueled by changing demographics and long commutes. Reconnecting America reports that “after decades of out-migration to the suburbs, many people are returning to the city to live, in part because traffic is so bad that commuting has become less and less appealing. But the changing housing market has much to do with demographics: While the vast majority of U.S. households used to be families with both a mom and dad and more than one child living in the same household, this demographic group now comprises just 25 percent of households and it’s shrinking. More and more households are childless or headed by single parents, and single adults comprise 41 percent of households. The demographic groups that are increasing in size – smaller, older, and more ethnically diverse – are the same demographic groups that have historically shown a preference for higher density housing near transit.”
While many claim only rail can simulate TOD, good bus service can product the same results. The HealthLine is a bus rapid transit system in Cleveland, OH that has ushered in significant amounts of nearby development. According to Forbes Magazine, within five years of opening, the HealthLine generated $5.8 billion in development along Euclid Avenue. That represents a return of $114 for each dollar invested in the transit project! The HealthLine is an example of what a well-funded bus rapid transit system looks like. It is a model for SORTA’s planned expansion and improvement of Metro*Plus service if a tax levy were to pass in Hamilton County supporting the bus system.
Hopefully you can see that there are many benefits to investing in transit for non-riders. Increased economic development, improved job access, and reduced traffic congestion are all reasons improved bus service will have an undeniably positive impact on our community.