UC student 'kickstarts' local transit map to increase ridership, attract businesses

A UC DAAP student has taken an innovative approach to making Cincinnati's bus system more usable and available to residents and visitors.

The motivation started when Nathan Wessel realized his friends weren't using Metro's extensive bus system, partly because they claimed they didn't understand it. It was a common enough complaint that Wessel began to wonder why other residents struggled with using Metro when Cincinnati's transportation system had extensive routes and limited wait times.

One reason, Wessel observed, was that current transit maps include too much information, leaving riders confused and perhaps unwilling to ride. So he designed a map to assuage rider concerns, allowing them to quickly and easily see which line they need to take, how to take it, and how long they will have to wait.

"I designed the map for people who don't ride transit a lot. My aim is to get more people on the bus, out of the cars, and to improve the quality of life for people who use the bus."

By using an online donation site, Kickstarter, Wessel launched his project with the goal of receiving enough funding in one month, about $1,200, to publish and print a convenient map for the transit system.

"I didn't know what to expect because my first thought was to go to major institutions and see if I could get a chunk of money from them," Wessel said. "I tried a few places like corporations and universities, but it didn't go anywhere fast."

By using Kickstarter, Wessel has already received a great response and more money than his initial goal. To keep the project moving forward he issued the map under a Creative Commons attribution share-alike license, which allows anyone to distribute or modify the maps after initial printing.

Dave Etienne, Metro's Marketing Director, has no problem with Wessel's DIY approach.

"I support anything that increases access to information on how to use transit. Especially during these budgetary times, it's great that citizens are actively involved with trying to improve and help the transit system," Etienne said.

Although the economic recession slowed down enhancements for local transit, SORTA does plan to move forward with improvements for Metro including actively working to make information and maps suitable for Google, updating a system map, creating a new website, and implementing a new communications system on buses.

In the meantime, Wessel believes his map will help businesses and homeowners identify neighborhoods where they want to settle. His map will show the most traveled places in Cincinnati, making it ideal for businesses to locate without doing a lot of research.

"I would really like for this map to help businesses. A good transit system should structure the city around it. If there's a bus going 75 trips in each direction, that's probably a good place to look for a business or own a home. This is the first step into thinking how we can rebuild the city," Wessel said.

Writer: Lisa Ensminger
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