Why don't Cincinnatians ride the bus?

So often, in conversations with well-meaning friends, I get blank looks when I tell them I ride the bus. For much of Cincinnati, our bus system is a mystery. Sure, everyone has seen Metro buses on the street, but riding one is inconceivable.

I listened to a podcast a few years ago that was discussing public transportation in Cincinnati and specifically Metro. I'll never forget what one of the hosts said, "I don't even know where most of Metro's routes go!" Coming from someone who lives in the city, and would identify as an urbanist, I knew that his ignorance was only the tip of the iceberg in our city.

I'll be the first to admit that it took some time to learn Metro's system. The 19 and 24, which run identical routes from Government Square before splitting at the intersection of Vine and MLK, are horribly confusing.

The numbers do not align geographically. In fact, there is no rhyme or reason whatsoever to the numbering system, with the 6, 21, 32, and 33 serving the West Side and the 1, 4, 11, and 43 serving East Side neighborhoods. The 64 starts at Glenway Crossing and takes a staggering 65 minutes to reach Government Square, while the 46 begins at the Zoo before snaking through Avondale and almost every point in Uptown on its way downtown.

But when you don't have a car, which is far more common in Cincinnati than many would like to admit, you figure out how to ride the bus pretty quickly. I started by trying to memorize the route schedule on the 1, the first bus I rode regularly when I moved to town. After a few years, I transitioned to the Google Maps app on my phone, which calculates bus schedules in an instant and makes improvisational bus riding much easier. By now, when I'm Uptown, I know exactly where the 17, 19, 24, 31, 43, 46, 51, 78, and Metro*Plus go and which one is my best bet, depending on the schedule and how far it is to walk.

It's an amazing sense of freedom to hop off the 21 in Westwood and know a 20-minute walk north will bring me to the 64. Sometimes, after a Xavier game in Norwood, instead of waiting for a 4 stuck in traffic on Montgomery, I enjoy a leisurely walk up Woodburn to the intersection with Gilbert, where I catch the 4 home.

I know that I'm privileged. Now a stay-at-home dad, I don't have to worry about being late to work because of a delayed bus or missed transfer. I'm not trying to drop a kid at daycare early in the morning before doing it over again in the afternoon. As someone who lives downtown, I don't have to choose between riding a crosstown bus that comes once or twice an hour or taking the much longer trip to Government Square for a transfer.

Those are the downsides of Metro's underfunded system, something the Better Bus Coalition is trying to change. But even without any improvements, it drives me crazy when I see people driving places they could ride by bus and save on stress and parking. Unless it's after midnight, the bus is almost always the best option between Uptown and Downtown. Urban neighborhoods like Walnut Hills, East Walnut Hills, East Price Hill, Clifton, Mt Auburn, and Northside have good to excellent bus service. How many new residents moving into the city, not to mention long-time residents, even consider the bus?

Imagine if Cincinnatians were as comfortable with Metro's bus routes as they are driving the city’s screwy street grid? In fact, considering how stressful it is to drive here, learning about the alternatives seems like an obvious choice. Why is it again that so many Cincinnatians don't ride the bus?