GCBL staff | 07/25/08 @ 4:30pm
Why is the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) considering service cuts and a fare hike as Northeast Ohio faces the perfect storm of high gas prices and a renewed interest in transit?
A new study that looks at each state's vulnerability to oil prices and what they're doing about it sheds light on Ohio, and with it, transit agencies like RTA's plight.
While the National Resources Defense Council "Ranking States' Oil Vulnerability and Solutions for Change" study released today ranks Ohioans right in the middle on oil vulnerability (its 26th spot is based on percentage of income spent on gas), only ten states were slower to respond to that vulnerability with investments in transit.
Ohioans spend 5.4% of their income ($1,886 per driver annually) on gas, but the state ranked 40th in transit spending (.77% spent on transit compared to highway spending in 2006). The picture is bleaker when considering Ohio far exceeds the bottom twelve states in population.
Ohio has treated transit like an afterthought for more than a decade. The NRDC findings confirm a 2006 report from the Transportation Research Board, which tallied Ohio's transit investment second to last among states-it 'spent' -8% on transit from 1995 to 2004 (based on compound annual growth rates). The national average was 3.9% during that time. While Ohio was reducing its funding for public transit, other states increased financial support for transit by approximately 130%.
The Ohio Public Transit Association explains why transit agencies like RTA are feeling a pinch-it's a combination of fuel prices and a downward trend in state and federal support. In "Public Transit in Crisis," it reports the increase in fuel costs for transit systems in Ohio between 2007 and 2008 is projected to be $18.5 million, with RTA expecting an $8.4 million increase.
While new riders will help, they won't make up for higher fuel costs, OPTA writes. Consider the top three revenue streams for COTA, Columbus' transit system: local sales tax (68.25%), passenger fares (19.06%) and federal assistance (16.45%). Cleveland is similar. The situation has prompted OPTA to call on the state to at least cover the added fuel costs for transit, and to seriously consider long-term funding solutions.
"Identifying the problem of oil addiction is only the beginning," adds the NRDC report, "the next step is to adopt workable solutions."
Unfortunately, Ohio is also lagging behind states that are adopting solutions. The NRDC report provides a snapshot of solutions: ticking off boxes if a state offers policies or incentives for clean and efficient vehicles, clean fuels, and smart growth & transit.
States like California, New York, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Colorado are responding to the latest energy crisis by establishing standards for fuel efficiency, investing in alternative fuels, and adopting policies like a Growth Management Act which regulates developments to ensure a mix of land uses to promote walkability and reduce the need for a car.
For example, following California's landmark 'clean car' standard, 18 states are adopting laws to reduce auto emissions with an added benefit of increasing fuel efficiency (the laws will depend in part on EPA approval).
Ohio earned three checks in the eleven "solutions" categories in the NRDC report. They are for:
- Mandating stronger fuel efficiency standards for the state's fleet of vehicles
- The Alternative Fuel Transportation Grant program ? retail businesses are eligible to apply for a grant to assist in the purchase and installation of alternative fuel facilities
- The Ohio Energy Office offers tips and tools for fleet operators looking to convert to diesel-electric hybrid vehicles
States that have the best shot at easing the pain at the pump for its citizens are setting performance-based goals for:
- lowering oil consumption
- prioritizing transit funding
- establishing offices to coordinate development that encourages smart growth
- 'flexing' certain federal funds that ordinarily would be spent on highway projects and instead using them to pay for these forward-thinking programs
Leading states' promotion of clean fuels, efficient vehicles, and smart growth and transit presents our nation's leaders with an opportunity to gauge the most effective measures and adopt them, NRDC concludes.