Cincinnati Streetcar: Better Management Structure Needed

Mar 6, 2018

There are lots of problems with the Cincinnati streetcar, the biggest among them is perhaps the lack of a good management system.  

Assistant City Manager John Juech told a Cincinnati Council committee Tuesday there isn't a single person who's in charge and empowered to make decisions

"You need one neck to choke," Juech said. "If things are going wrong, you need to know who's responsible and who can get it fixed. As of now, we don't have that and I think that's a real constraint."

Right now, the city contracts with the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) to manage the streetcar. SORTA then has an agreement with a private vendor, Transdev, for day-to-day operations and maintenance.

Council Member Wendell Young said it might be time to re-think SORTA's involvement.

"SORTA and the streetcar really cannot go forward much longer as the same operation," Young said. "I'm beginning to get the feeling we're asking SORTA to do what it doesn't do. And we're tying the hands of the streetcar in terms of being able to do what it needs to do."

City administrators will prepare a report on how the management structure could be improved.

Streetcar ridership has been declining in recent months. There were 34,000 rides in November, 32,000 in December, and 17,000 in January. The system was idle for part of January because of on-going vehicle problems during cold weather.

For the fiscal year, ridership is 47,421 rides lower than projected.

Fare revenue and money from advertising is also below budget estimates. If there are no improvements, the city estimates the streetcar could operate in the red during the next two fiscal years.

The city is working with CAF USA on the vehicle problems. The city has still not officially taken possession of four streetcars (even though they are in use) and is withholding nearly $4 million in payments to the company.

CAF said it's working to fix the problems, but it will involve re-design work, which could take as long as six months to complete. Those components would then have to be field tested before being installed.

Transdev has also had issues operating the system. Since revenue service began in September 2016, the company has had five different general managers and three maintenance managers. The company has also had problems filling streetcar operator positions.

Meanwhile, Juech said a contractor is working on a downtown traffic study. That firm is collecting data and is expected to provide recommendations in the fall for improving traffic flow for the streetcar, buses, cars and pedestrians.