Ridership is down slightly for Metro bus lines that serve Butler County, but officials with the bus company aren't worrying just yet.
The slight drop in year-to-date totals through September -- 4 percent for the Rt. 23X Fairfield-Tri-County Express and 6 percent for the Rt. 42X West Chester express route -- still leaves ridership "pretty comparable" to year-to-date totals for 2012, said Jill Dunne, a Metro spokeswoman.
"It's certainly not something we're going to panic about," Dunne said. "We're going to keep making improvements and hope that riderships continues to increase, which we think it will."
The year-to-date declines mirror similar ridership downturns for Metro's overall express routes (down 3.4 percent) and Metro's entire system (down 3.6 percent).
But comparing recently month-over-month totals paints a different picture, Dunne said. In September, the West Chester Express provided 10,371 rides, an 11.4 percent increase compared to the September 2012 total of 9,309. Ridership on Metro's Rt. 23X Fairfield-Tri-County Express saw a similar spike, increasing to 6,468 rides this September compared to 6,019 rides in September 2012, a 7.5 percent boost.
"We've definitely seen some improvement and we're hoping that's a result of some of the efforts we're doing to make the rider experience better," Dunne said. "We continue to have new and additional riders and keep the riders that we have, so that's definitely our goal."
That includes introducing new fare options, such a store value card that comes in values of $10, $20 and $30, and is just like cash, allowing riders to use one card instead of fishing around their pockets or purses for exact change.
"That's a huge benefit for those riders who may not ride enough to get a monthly, 30-day rolling pass, but they still ride enough that they don't want to have to have the exact change all the time," Dunne said.
Metro will eventually roll out smart cards that work like store value cards but can be loaded and then re-loaded. It also will offer the stored value cards online, instead of just in its sales office.
Metro also plans to introduce real time updates "relatively soon" for riders to gauge the location of the bus they want to catch.
"They'll be able to look on their smart phones and be able to tell where that bus is in real time, and then they can judge 'well, do I have enough time to get a cup of coffee before I go to the bus stop."
Motorists also may start taking Metro to avoid six major development projects either planned or underway in downtown Cincinnati. The resulting traffic jams will get worse in the coming months and years for the 60,000 people who commute into the central business district each work day.
"It's hard to draw exact correlations because there are other factors that come into play -- economy, jobs, things like that -- but we certainly see some riders anecdotally telling us 'You're helping us deal with this traffic,'" Dunne said. "By taking those cars off the road when they ride, it really helps everyone in times of heavy construction like what Cincinnati is going through right now."
Pat Wilson of Monroe said she drove to downtown Cincinnati for her job for more than 25 years, but started avoiding traffic headaches three-and-a-half years ago when she opted to take the West Chester Express.
Funded by the Butler County Regional Transit Authority, the West Chester Express starts from the park and ride at Meijer, 7390 Tylersville Road.
"You can sleep on the bus, you can do anything you want on the bus," Wilson said. "Let somebody else drive."
Elvin Kennedy, 53, said he usually ends up frustrated by changes to bus routes where he lives in Cincinnati's Western Hills neighborhood.
But Kennedy, who started a restaurant project in the area this week, said he had nothing but gratitude for Metro's West Chester Express.
"Thank goodness this bus is here, because without it, I wouldn't be able to get here or home," Kennedy said.