The Mister and I have opposing viewpoints regarding the latest addition to Cincinnati streets. The new rail system thrills me! Like Johnny Cash said, “I’ve got a thing about trains.” Despite my husband’s practical side, he was pleased to see that the new Cincinnati Bell Connector was bustling with riders, and the streetcar stations were teeming with waiting passengers, not to mention the reflection of the city passing by in his kids’ eyes.
I’d like to attribute our multiple rides on research for this piece, but I genuinely couldn’t wait for this thing to arrive. And waiting we have been. I mean, it takes me forever to lay those wooden train tracks just the right way so they’re both continuous and fit on the train table.
I have lived on the outskirts of Cincinnati most of my life. Being a suburbanite for as long as I can remember – making the trek to the city was a big deal. Downtown Cincinnati charms me with beautiful parks, hand-carved carousel animals, local restaurants and breweries, critically-acclaimed theater and ballet, inspiring murals, and so much more. All within a small distance. Going downtown is an adventure one doesn’t want to miss and the Connector makes it so much easier to do it all in one fell swoop. For a 3.6 mile loop, it is bursting with possibility! From the swings and fountains on The Banks, to the Library, to the Brewery District, to doughnuts, waffles, parks, Findlay Market and Fountain Square!
Our first trip on the Cincinnati Bell Connector was an early Saturday morning – when the streetcar first began carrying riders. We drove to Washington Park and left our van in the garage beneath the public green space. We unloaded our two youngest along with the stroller – of the large jogging variety. I only schlepped this along because I wanted to test its practicality on the trains, which was okay as long as it wasn’t busy. We walked over to the streetcar stop across from Music Hall and anxiously waited.
It was the free weekend, so we didn’t even mess with the ticket machine; and when the streetcar arrived, the four of us easily boarded. The transition from the platform to the inside of the car was smooth because of level-floor boarding, which means the platform and the floor of the train are at the same height.
We entered through the middle doors, as suggested for wheelchairs, strollers, bikes, etc. With it being so early, there was plenty of room for The Mister and our Little Mister to sit down. The Baby was in the stroller.
We learned a great lesson during our first ride – avoid the pivot points. The floor moved under my feet when the streetcar took a turn. The car expanded and contracted like an accordion. For a moment, it had a destabilizing fun-house effect on me! It can be startling for newcomers. Since then, I have warned people and seen others alert first-time riders as they stand, unsuspecting, on these links.
As for the stroller, we didn’t even attempt to hop on with it again once we were off. It was clear that there wasn’t room for an open stroller and wasn’t worth the effort. I don’t foresee this always being a setback; it certainly didn’t stop us from riding a second time.
For our second trip, I downloaded the Cincy EZRide app on my phone. It is definitely convenient, but not as user-friendly as I would have hoped. This time, we went sans stroller, but with the oldest child, too. The streetcar pulled up as soon as we got to the station. We didn’t feel like waiting so we jumped on the train. Well, two of us did. Then the doors closed. This was nearly heart-breaking for our middle child, grasping my hand tightly, as he saw his “Dadda” standing with the other two kids outside the train. Thankfully the doors opened right back up and they jumped in. Be sure to have a plan in place in case your family gets separated by the doors! Once inside, I bought and activated our tickets on the app. Just like that.
Well, truthfully, it wasn’t just like that. I first had to get the app, then I had to create an account since tickets can’t be purchased otherwise. But I did all of that while walking across Washington Park. We were already on the train when I selected our fare: Cincinnati Bell Connector, Fair Type: $2 Cincinnati Bell Connector 1-Day Pass. There is an option for a 2-hour ticket, too. Once activated, they begin to count down to their expiration, which is convenient.
- The disadvantage to using the app was that I couldn’t select the cheaper fare for our younger kids; though the prices are so inexpensive, even for a family of five, that I didn’t mind it. Also, make sure your phone is charged. You’re responsible for your ticket which means it needs to be accessible at any moment – you don’t want your battery to die when you need to verify your purchase.
- The advantage of the app is that we avoided the lines at the ticket vending machines and it was electronic, which meant one less piece of paper to hang onto (or misplace with three kids).
Important Things to Note:
The Connector operates:
- Monday-Thursday 6:30 a.m. – midnight
- Friday 6:30 a.m. – 1 a.m.
- Saturday 8 a.m. – 1 a.m.
- Sunday and holidays 9 a.m. – 11 p.m.
How to ride:
Purchase tickets through ticket vending machines at each streetcar station, or through the Cincy EZRide app (a free app with no service fees). It is important, however, that you must validate your ticket at the vending machine before entering the streetcar, by inserting the ticket into the validator. If you use the app, you have to activate your ticket to begin the countdown to expiration. Fare inspectors make random checks; if you don’t have a valid streetcar pass at that time, they will issue a citation (like a parking ticket).
Each time we have ridden on the car, the sense of community is humbling. Going on the first Saturday morning and a Sunday afternoon during Oktoberfest – people were generally happy; but amongst strangers were smiles and conversations we would have otherwise missed if we walked to our destinations. The vehicle found a way to unite us, and that was definitely worth it.
I don’t need convincing that Cincinnati needed this Connector, or that it needs me to keep riding. And despite The Mister not seeing that we need a streetcar in Cincinnati, his greatest takeaway has been the generations of people coming out of the woodwork for this movement. We have heard elderly women reminisce about riding the original streetcars. We have eavesdropped on conversations about how much the city has changed. We are inspired that the Cincinnati Bell Connector is doing just that – connecting us to our city and to each other. We are growing and this has the potential to move us forward; but we have to be willing to load up the kids, make it a date, or fly solo… but to ultimately get on board.