At a public meeting on Oct. 21, citizens in Northeast Ohio will have an opportunity to tell the Ohio Department of Transportation that its almost-last-in-the-nation record of funding transit is short-sighted and shameful. Ohioans want better transportation choices.
During the month of October, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) will be conducting public meetings around the state to gather citizen input for an “Ohio Statewide Transit Needs Study.” The meeting in Northeast Ohio will be on Oct. 21 at 2 p.m. at the offices of Greater Cleveland RTA, 1240 W. 6th St. in Cleveland.
This will be an opportunity to urge ODOT to have a much bigger vision about the importance and potential of transit. Currently, the state seems to view transit as second-class transportation for people who don’t have a car or can’t drive. Indeed, when ODOT studies the market potential for transit, it focuses on the following demographic characteristics: “the combined number of low-income individuals, persons with disabilities, older adults (65+), and zero vehicle households.”
It’s like there’s a phenomenon of “transit-dependency,” and it’s a disease like alcoholism or drug addiction. There’s no way the state would want to encourage it.
And Ohio certainly does not encourage transit. The state directs only about $28 million annually to transit systems. This transit budget declined more than 80% from 2000 to 2013. On a per capita basis, Ohio’s transit funding is now among the lowest in the nation. (Meanwhile, ODOT can always find big money for road projects to promote more driving, such as the $331-million Opportunity Corridor in Cleveland or the $429-million Portsmouth Bypass in southern Ohio.)
The necessary rise of transit
There are many reasons why ODOT should change its attitude and make transit a priority for funding in the future:
- Demand for transit is growing — in Greater Cleveland and across the country.
- Young people are driving less and are moving to places that offer a convenient, healthy, and affordable urban lifestyle built around walking, biking, and transit.
- Good transit service promotes economic development and is a requirement being ranked as a successful, livable city. One reason the Republican National Convention is coming to Cleveland is that, even though our RTA needs a lot of work, it’s superior to the systems in some competing cities.
- Mass transit makes all other modes of transportation work better. It takes cars off the road to reduce traffic congestion. It extends the range of bike trips. And it is often the middle part of trips that start and end on foot.
- Efficient transit systems will help reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector. This is an absolutely vital thing to do to mitigate the risks of climate change.
The bottom line is that public transit is not a charity or a frill. It’s a necessity for making great cities and a resilient society. It will be an increasingly essential part of our future. And it already is an issue that affects most people in Ohio, as the service areas of Ohio’s 10 largest transit systems encompass 52% of the state’s population.
So please go to the public meeting on Oct. 21 and tell ODOT to greatly increase transit funding and build transit systems that work for all. While it’s tempting to be cynical about such meetings, it’s important for transit advocates to be heard. After all, ODOT hears all the time from motorists and highway contractors. We need a more effective voice to argue for transit’s fair share.