Op-Ed: TANK Lacks Satisfactory Communication in Proposed Route Changes

The following op-ed is written by Newport city commissioner Ken Rechtin.

For the past few months, TANK has been going through a process of evaluating their routes. TANK’s expressed purpose of this 2020 Planning process is: “to increase efficiencies, improve ridership and/or halt declines…”

What I and about seventy-five other folks saw last Tuesday evening was a plan focused solely on decreasing routes and services. 

TANK is interested in receiving public comments on their suggested changes as well as other comments about our public transit system.

After speaking with some of the TANK staff, it was suggested that I put my comments in writing for their records.

Regarding the system as a whole:

When I, and out of town guests, have used our public transit system, I and they find it less than friendly and accommodating. Even though the fare is extremely cheap for the ride, the fare structures are confusing. (Simpler is better.) A customer cannot get change for cash fares. There is a lack of friendliness and help from the staff when trying to negotiate the payment for the ride.

TANK lacks a satisfactory communication system to the public regarding change: At the above-mentioned meeting, I learned that there is now an online system to estimate the arrival time of your bus. There is also a smart phone app to pay for rides. This is the first time that I learned of these features. Simply making the public aware of improvements in the system will increase ridership.

During the public meeting, I only heard of ways to decrease inefficient routes, I did not hear of ways to increase ridership. I believe that success in any endeavor cannot be achieved solely by cutting. A successful enterprise looks for and finds ways to grow customers and revenue!

Regarding suggested route changes (I focus only on the change here in the river cities of Campbell County.):

The change to the Southbank Shuttle and Route #12: 

As I recall the initial Southbank Shuttle was a public private partnership (TANK, Southbank and Executive Transportation). The shuttle was to provide visitors to NKY with quick, easy and friendly access to entertainment and sports venues. The shuttle serviced the motels and hotels on the south side of the Ohio. The hotels even gave tokens to their guests to ride the shuttle. The shuttle route was a loop with vehicles going in both directions. The shuttle drivers were outgoing, friendly, helpful and customer focused. One driver, that I know, would give a running commentary to the ridership about the history and attractions in the area.

Over time, this service has morphed from visitor service into serving customers who work in downtown Cincinnati. It is no longer a loop, but now is a large “U”. Maybe this was the natural change of the route, but TANK should recognize that the route no longer does what it was initially intended to do. TANK should realize that the current shuttle fleet in not ideal for the customer who is “going to work”. The shuttle is very uncomfortable. The seats are unpadded wooden benches. The suspension system is very rigid which makes the ride very bumpy. The shuttle does not “kneel” to lower itself for easy access. And, the capacity is very limited.

It is now proposed that the Southbank Shuttle be extended to serve Bellevue and Dayton and the Route #12 is incorporated within the new shuttle route. The residential growth in our urban core of Newport, Bellevue and Dayton does warrant improved service within those communities, but not at the expense of the service which was once intended for the Southbank Shuttle. And utilizing the existing Shuttle fleet for additional service to this growing population of workers is an improper use of those assets which were specifically designed for visitors.   

So, in homage to LeRoy Rechtin, my father, who always told me not to come to him with a complaint unless I had a suggested solution:

TANK should market itself on every social media platform. Every change in payment, rates, routes and technology should be explained and reexplained endlessly to all NKY (NKY is Boone, Campbell and Kenton Counties). 

Find a way to make change for cash fares on the bus!

All TANK personnel should have customer focused service training annually and it should be a component of annual performance review. Employee rewards and recognition for noted excellent customer service should be initiated.

TANK should initiate an annual round of moderated brainstorming sessions. These should be public focus group meetings on how to increase ridership. 

Cutting routes does not grow the business!

Change the Southbank Shuttle route to a loop using Madison to Twelfth Street to The Girl Scout Bridge to 11th Street to Monmouth Street to Sixth to Party Source to past Newport on the Levee to Taylor Southgate Street Bridge to Third Street in Cincinnati to Clay Wade Bailey Bridge to Main Street to Sixth to NKY Convention Center to Madison Avenue. 

Do not use the Southbank Shuttle for Dayton and Bellevue employee commuters!

For Dayton and Bellevue commuters, initiate a comfortable, large bus service focused on “rush hour” ridership but extended into the evening and on weekends. Using Fairfield in Bellevue and Sixth in Dayton, the route would loop at the Manhattan Marina in Dayton to serve the new housing on the north side of the levee.

I realize that I am NOT a public transit expert. 

These are just my thoughts on our future public transportation, what do you think?

Please go to the TANK website, review the proposed changes and give TANK your thoughts!