Cincinnati's Streetcar Gets First CEO

Former city attorney Travis Jeric will be the streetcar's first CEO — but can he improve ridership and streetcar performance issues?

Mar 5, 2019 at 2:58 pm
click to enlarge Cincinnati streetcar - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Cincinnati streetcar

The Cincinnati Bell Connector is finally getting a CEO as the city works to improve headway times, performance issues and ridership.

Travis Jeric, formerly in the city's law department, will take the role starting March 10, city administration said today during a presentation about the streetcar before Cincinnati City Council's Major Projects and Smart Government Committee.

Previously, city officials, including streetcar supporters on Cincinnati City Council, have complained about the 3.6-mile rail loop's tangled management structure. The city owns the streetcar and the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority oversees it, but SORTA contracts its daily operations out to a company called Transdev.

Jeric's appointment comes as the streetcar continues struggling with lagging ridership numbers, blockages in certain high-traffic areas like Government Square and near Rhinegeist Brewery, missed headways and cold-weather performance issues.

Assistant City Manager John Juech told council today that those issues are getting better, at least in some cases.

Blockages are down from an average of 300 a month last summer to128 in January, Juech pointed out, and are also briefer — less than three minutes on average. Blockages caused by Metro buses have decreased from about 60 a month to roughly 30 a month, Juech said.

Some of the streetcar's cold weather issues have also gotten better — though new challenges have also sprung up. While an issue with air compressors on the cars that caused 18 service interruptions last year has been largely mitigated — those same compressors only failed twice this winter, and those failures were due to faulty parts — other problems caused more than 60 outages in January. That's the most ever since the streetcar launched. Most of those outages involved cold-weather fogging of rear-facing cameras that feed data to the streetcar's onboard computers, Juech said. He noted that Spain-based streetcar manufacturer CAF has fixes for those problems.

“The streetcars themselves are like rolling supercomputers," he said. "There are a lot of computing devices in there and we’ve had some issues there.” 

The streetcar still isn't hitting its contractually-required 12-15 minute headway times, Juech admitted, clocking in at 13:28 on average during peak operating times and 15:39 for non-peak hours. Ridership has continued to lag, but has improved somewhat since this time last year, according to the presentation today. January's ridership hit 22,362 — more than the budgeted 19,190 rides for this month and above ridership for January 2018.

For this fiscal year, the streetcar so far has provided 284,987 rides — 12 percent below the budgeted 311,000 for this point in the year.

Juech said the numbers could use improvement.

“We’ve stabilized a little, but especially in the cold weather months, it is down," he said of ridership. "We’re not knocking it out of the park there.”

Streetcar supporters and city officials hope the incoming CEO can help reverse some of the issues. But some on council questioned whether Jeric will have the power to make big changes to the transit project's operations, including potentially making the streetcar fare-free or introducing signal priority so the streetcar gets better headway at traffic lights.

Council members Greg Landsman and Chris Seelbach both brought up concerns about Jeric's leeway to initiate those kinds of changes.

"He needs to be fully empowered to present a new vision for this project," Landsman said.