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Metro Is on the Move at 50

The new Hamilton County tax levy is starting to expand bus services and introduce affordable Uber-like options.

by Sarah M. Mullins

Hamilton County voters approved Issue 7 in 2020 by a slim margin to increase the county sales tax by 0.8 percent and fund transit-related infrastructure improvements, including enhancements to Metro. The agency, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is also celebrating new cross-town routes, weekend and extended-hours service, zero-emission vehicles, transit centers, bus rapid transit routes, and other plans that are coming to fruition—new action that’s boosting the local economy and connecting residents to their destinations, including jobs.

“When you have very robust transit, you drive equity into a region,” says Darryl Haley, CEO of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) and Metro. “People need to connect to all of the things that are important in our lives. But we’re also connecting them to higher paying jobs so we can reduce poverty in our region, so we can reduce crime in our region, and so we can attract talent.”

Metro’s five-year expansion is currently in phase two with planning of the bus rapid transit system. BRT has the speed and convenience of a light rail line but without the expense of permanent rail, using frequent buses (every five to 10 minutes) on dedicated bus lanes, traffic signals that allow buses to go before other traffic, and boarding platforms that allow seamless passenger entry and exit. The first two dedicated routes will be Hamilton Avenue and Reading Road, which are expected to be completed by 2027.

Other new BRT lines in U.S. cities have experienced an influx in businesses moving near the route and a boom in transit ridership, which Haley expects to be true in Cincinnati as well. “The next generation cares about the environment,” he says. “They don’t want to own three cars; some of them don’t want to own a car at all. They want to live in walkable communities, but they still want and need to connect to all of the things the region has.”

Metro is also launching MetroNow!, an Uber-like service in locations that aren’t conducive to 40-foot-long buses. Riders will log on to an app to schedule pick up and drop off at $2 per trip. “We know there are pockets of our region where people really don’t have access, so MetroNow! will give them access to the doctor’s office or to grocery stores within their zone,” says Haley. The first two zones roll out this summer with plans for four more zones by the start of 2024.

Metro is designing new transit centers for Walnut Hills, North College Hill, and Uptown and is also working to renovate bus stops, shelters, and benches throughout the system. “We’re celebrating our 50th anniversary in growth mode,” says Haley. “We are adding services, going into new areas, expanding our footprint, and building new transit centers. We’ve made great strides on how we connect the region to this point, and we’re excited about phases three, four, and five to come.”