Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority Board of Trustees met yesterday to hear a proposal for fare increases and service changes. It reflected the opinion of riders at 15 public meetings held March 21-April 6.
Trustees asked the staff to revise certain recommendations and to make another presentation to them at their upcoming (May 10, 2016) board meeting. None of the proposed items were approved at this week’s meeting.
Facing an uncertain future and a mandate in its charter to close a $7 million operating budget deficit, RTA in February identified 19 bus and 2 rail lines for complete or partial shutdowns, estimating it would save $3.5 million. The agency aimed the cuts to hit across their service area of Cuyahoga County.
Its revised list still brings bad news to low-income seniors living at Lakeview Terrace in Ohio City as well as the high paid professionals living in the Eastern suburbs who use the Green Line after hours. NASA, who was recognized as the best company for promoting alternative transportation, will lose its bus link and so will North Royalton school kids. RTA heard the more urgent need and decided to spare, for example, the end run of the #7 bus to Progressive Insurance at its Mayfield Village campus and the #8 bus on Cedar Avenue on the weekends when church and shopping trips peak.
On the fare increase side, RTA’s Board must still decide if and how much it will raise the burden on its riders. Its current proposed hike is from $2.25 to $2.50 in August 2016 and an additional 25 cents to $2.75 in August 2018 for a one-way ride. Paratransit customers will pay an additional 75 cents or $3.00 in 2016 and $3.50 in 2018. The agency estimates it will save $3.5 million from asking customers to pay more.
In its presentation yesterday, RTA responded to questions about Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. RTA is required to file a report showing that any major service change and any fare increase doesn’t cause disparate and disproportionate impact on those living in poverty. RTA says that the fare increase will not unduly burden low income or minority riders compared to non-low income. The increase for a low income rider, RTA estimates, will be 11.45%. The increase for non-low income rider: 11.33%.
Some have questioned whether the agency’s claim about impact to low income riders is calculated cumulatively. In other words, is RTA required to add up the cuts it has made since a large, system wide cut in 2010 and a round of smaller cuts made in 2015 when its Local Radial service from the east suburbs was discontinued, forcing many riders to transfer at Euclid Avenue in University Circle, in its Title VI report.
Since the agency ended its transfers, riders are forced to pay twice, unless they pre-purchase a 5-ride fare card. The availability of the 5-ride fare card has been raised at recent meetings this reporter attended. RTA customers on the east side, in particular, have noted, rightly, that without transfers and with RTA continuing to provide single seat / direct to downtown service for the west side suburbs on Detroit Avenue (#55) and on Lorain Avenue (#22), an inequity will be made worse by cuts to the bus routes and rail service on the east side. Transit advocacy group Ohio Organizing Collaborative has also called on the agency to add transfers back.
Looking for solutions to the constant funding crunch that RTA has found itself in—even as its main source (65%) of funding from the county’s 1-cent sales tax has rebounded to pre-Recession levels—has been the question on everyone’s mind.
RTA CEO Joe Calabrese and a coalition of labor, environmental, elected officials and transit riders have called on Ohio to take their blinders off, see the value in transit and develop a funding stream that replenishes the service, a lifeline for thousands of employers and employees. But, Ohio’s funding for all of its urban transit agencies has fallen from a high of $43 million in 2010 to $7 million today.
The cuts have mirrored those the state’s GOP leadership has made to the local government fund (Cleveland lost $30 million in state support last year), prompting one observer—a lawyer at a big downtown Cleveland firm who takes the train every day—to ask if the state needs to revisit its Constitutional restriction on the use of (a portion of) its gas tax for transit.
The coalition includes a grassroots group called Clevelanders for Public Transit. The group recently traveled to Columbus to rally at the Statehouse steps and demand more equitable funding from the state.
There have also been questions about the fiscal wisdom of the region's leaders who have pressed RTA to invest in new service in less populated areas of the county that don't have a chance of supporting transit because of their low density land use pattern. Transit riders have pressed local government and business leaders to pay more attention to RTA's crisis as they gild the lily for the RNC with baubles like hotel bars and lavish $300 million to extend the I-490 highway.