Monday, September 26, 2011

What rail transit reporting looks like in one of Cincinnati's peer cities

Nashville, TN is home to the worst-performing rail transit line in the United States, The Music City Star. This 32-mile commuter rail line began service in 2006 and attracts under 1,000 riders daily -- a fraction of the number who will ride Cincinnati's two-mile modern streetcar.

So five years into this failed experiment with commuter rail a hardened Cincinnatian would expect the who's-who of Nashville talk radio hosts, anti-tax groups, and the local newspaper to be calling for the service to be halted. Except in Nashville -- also a Republican hotbed -- the exact opposite is happening.

On Sunday, The Tennessean ran a front-page feature on The Music Star, which not only condoned its atrocious ridership, but called for similarly inauspicious lines to be built in every direction:



Zero negative voices appear in this article. Officials are happy, riders are happy, and more of the same is on the way. Meanwhile, up in Cincinnati, anti-intellectualism reigns:

Here is a video of one of the short Music City Star trains leaving downtown Nashville:

Why does The Music City Star perform so poorly? The primary reason isn't its used equipment (The Star uses retired Chicago commuter rail passenger cars), or its unimpressive average speed, or its threadbare stations. Rather, the main problem is that Downtown Nashville is simply not a major employment center -- it is home to perhaps half as many workers as Downtown Cincinnati. What's more, the line's terminal station is on the edge of downtown, a hilly walk away from most office and state government buildings.

Cincinnati's proposed Oasis Commuter Rail (read my August 2010 article) would attract more riders, but with its $400 million capital cost (10X more expensive despite being less than half as long as the Music City Star's line) and an annual operating subsidy of between $10 and $20 million, it should not be built according to current plans.

But the point of this post was not to get into the details of what exists in Nashville and what is proposed for Cincinnati. The point is that two nearby Republican-controlled metro areas have very different media coverage of this same issue. Nashville's business community has, since about 1990, copied the growth strategies of Atlanta and Charlotte. Meanwhile, Cincinnati's business community perpetuates the narrative of decline that it concocted soon after WWII so that a short list of companies and wealthy families can retain their positions of power, to the detriment of the City's overall development.


  1. I think you are trying to make a point about the way that the Enquirer reports on the street car, and while I agree with you that they have done an exceptionally poor job, you are overreaching by quite a bit in this blog post. Nashville has operated under the metro form of government since the early 60s and has never had a Republican mayor during that time period so then wouldn't it be a stretch to call it a Republican controlled metro area? I would also hesitate to call the Cincinnati metro-area a Republican controlled area as the city of Cincinnati proper has been dominated by Democrats while the areas outside the city and surrounding suburban and rural counties tend to be dominated by Republicans. This isn't about politics so much as it is about the Enquirer and its ignorant (willfully, or otherwise) reporting. The best kind of paper is one that is non-partisan and supportive of its home city but not to the extent of being a homer --it appears that this is how The Tennesean operates. It is interesting to note that both newspapers are owned by Gannett.

  2. I don't think there's any doubt that the Republican party has the edge in Tennessee, but you missed my main point. There is and has been an anti-city narrative in Cincinnati since the late 1940s and it was fabricated by those who have a financial interest in keeping new players out of Cincinnati. Rail transit lines have the ability to fundamentally redefine property values and create new prime locations that can poach the tenants of old prime locations and so are quite threatening to those whose companies and family trusts rent the land beneath existing buildings and parking lots. By keeping expectations low and scaring away talent with frustrating behavior, old Cincinnati prevents a new Cincinnati from taking root and threatening their grip on local affairs.