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Vehicle Issues And Delivery Trucks Causing Biggest Streetcar Headaches

Jay Hanselman

Vehicle issues and track blockages remain two of the biggest issues plaguing the Cincinnati Bell Connector. A committee working on streetcar operational issues got an update Monday on the problems and how Metro and the city are trying to correct them.Based on March numbers, vehicle maintenance issues and problems with the system that communicates between streetcars and their specific traffic signals at points where the cars turn are the leading issues causing service delays.

Metro Director of Rail Services Paul Grether says the agency is working closely with CAF, the manufacturer, to rectify the problems.

"Do we have a problem with the vendor?," asked working group co-chair and Cincinnati Bell CEO Ted Torbeck. "Let's face reality... compared to what we bought and what we expect and what the contract says, are they in violation?"

Streetcar Project Manager Chris Eilerman says no. "Our focus with CAF, particularly over the last couple months, has been really focused on getting mechanical issues addressed. I would say that the CAF warranty team that is onsite - there are four CAF warranty technicians onsite and they've been here for over a year - they're very responsive. The time that they typically take to get an issue from 'the issues been identified' to 'the issue has been addressed' is relatively short."

Eilerman also assured Torbeck he doesn't think the city needs to try to recoup any financial losses as yet saying the work has been done under warranty.

Cincinnati Council Member Amy Murray is concerned about what happens when the vehicle warranty runs out in June, 2018.

"I think that's something we need to be looking at to make sure that if there's any ongoing, systemic issues with the trains we need to make sure we have those quantified and working with legal."

Eilerman calls the city's relationship with CAF as "robust" and says the sides are working well together to get issues fixed. He adds that, anecdotally, through conversations with other streetcar communities, the issues in Cincinnati are "pretty normal."

He adds that Cincinnati communicates with Kansas City, which launched its system just ahead of Cincinnati's, about what issues should be expected and how to fix them.

Track Blockages

Cars, emergency vehicles and delivery trucks blocking the streetcar tracks remain a key issue. Assistant City Manager John Juech says the city is making good progress with police and fire. He says emergency responders are now making an concerted effort to clear the tracks as quickly as possible.

Delivery trucks pose the biggest problem, he says.

"It's a lot of beer deliveries and food deliveries to bars and restaurants. We actually know the establishments and the companies that are doing this," says Juech.

Letters were sent Friday to companies which have been cited two or more times. The maximum fine the city can levy at the moment is $100, according to officials in Monday's meeting.

Juech says the city is trying to work with bars and restaurants to adjust their delivery schedules, or find better places for the trucks to park while dropping off goods.

Department of Transportation and Engineering Director Michael Moore says there is also discussion about adjusting some of the city's designated delivery zones which may no longer be in the best places for where businesses need them.

Two Major Problem Zones

Cincinnati officials at Monday's meeting say they're looking at parking issues around Rhinegeist Brewery near the streetcar line's terminus. The brewery's popularity, coupled with a lack of parking and drop-off zones, make it a prime bottleneck for traffic and streetcar delays.

Now that baseball season is back, Second and Third streets and the area around Great American Ball Park is another heavy congestion zone.

"The Uber drivers, the Lyft drivers, the taxi drivers, they just line up on [Second] Street and that creates a bottleneck," says Juech. "We're going to try to engage those companies and push people either east or west so they're not on the streetcar loop."

The idea of opening the transit center and pushing ride hailing/taxi services there was proposed. Deputy General Manager Darryl Haley says Metro will look into that option.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.