RTA, Middletown considering commuter bus route into downtown Cincinnati

Butler County Regional Transit Authority, which manages Middletown’s bus system, is proposing a commuter bus service between the city and downtown Cincinnati with a stop in West Chester.

Matthew Dutkevicz, BCRTA executive director, made the proposal Tuesday to Middletown City Council for a service that would make eight trips inbound and eight trips outbound Monday through Friday.

There is a commuter bus route operated by the Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA)/Cincinnati Metro that links a park-and-ride stop at the Meijer store on Tylersville Road in West Chester to downtown Cincinnati. Dutkevicz said Middletown Transit Services is eligible for additional federally funded small urban transit program grants for buses and services for which BCRTA and SORTA are not eligible.

“Small urban systems in Ohio are leaving money on the table that MTS is eligible to receive,” he said. “This proposal would have no impact on the city’s general fund.”

Dutkevicz said BCRTA would purchase six to 10 commuter-style buses. The route would have limited stops that would start near the Interstate 75/Ohio 122 interchange to downtown Cincinnati.

“There are a lot of options on the table,” Dutkevicz said when council asked about possible routes to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport or weekend/late night routes to go to The Banks or Reds games.

City Manager Jim Palenick said having the route start near Towne Mall Galleria would be timely. The city, mall owners and Warren County Port Authority are working on a master plan to convert the former mall into a mixed-use town center to include destination dining and multi-family housing.

“This would be a great opportunity,” Palenick said.

The existing West Chester/downtown Cincinnati route had a pre-pandemic ridership of 9,000 to 11,000 a month. Dutkevicz said BCRTA operates the current service from West Chester to downtown with heavily demanded Cincinnati Urbanized Area grant funds.

His proposal would be for BCRTA to terminate its contract with SORTA/Metro for that route and launch the new service in 2022.

He said MTS ridership during the COVID-19 pandemic is better than the majority of the county and is down about 14% in 2020 over 2019.

BCRTA, Middletown, Monroe and Atrium Medical Center collaborated on a six-days-a-week commuter bus service called the WorkLink to transport people to open jobs along the I-75 corridor between South Dayton and West Chester and linked to Metro and Greater Dayton RTA routes.

However, the WorkLink route lasted less than two years and ended in April 2020. Ridership was hard to achieve as it was difficult to meet employers’ schedules and not enough frequency in buses, Dutkevicz said.

“WorkLink is no longer in place, but we are excited about the commuter service possibilities and the benefit this will bring for our citizens and employers,” said Susan Cohen, Middletown’s administrative services director.

WorkLink was replaced by BGo, an on-demand service similar to an Uber/Lyft trip within Butler County and a limited service area along the Interstate 75/Interstate 275 corridor in Hamilton and Warren counties.

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