Blog › Concerns about inequities as Greater Cleveland RTA raises fares


Concerns about inequities as Greater Cleveland RTA raises fares

Marc Lefkowitz  |  06/07/16 @ 2:00pm  |  Posted in Transit

Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s Board of Directors approved a fare increase today, its first hike in seven years. Starting in August, a one-way fare to ride the bus or train will rise from $2.25 to $2.50 (with an approved increase to $2.75 in 2018). After the public raised concerns about individual riders being asked to close a $7 million budget gap, RTA adjusted its rate increase for its Paratransit service -- to two, 25-cent increases over three years (instead of a proposed $1.25 hike).

“This decision is not easy,” said Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough, an RTA Board member, who thanked the staff for listening and making adjustments.

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Some RTA board members and customers who attended today’s board meeting expressed disappointment in RTA, and state leaders, for not avoiding the fare increases altogether.

“I feel like we have known this day was coming for three years and I still haven’t heard about long-term solutions,” said Newburgh Heights Mayor, Trevor Elkins, who cast the lone dissenting vote.

Cleveland Chief of Staff and RTA Board Chair Valarie McCall refuted the notion that the board knew about the fare increases. “We made a conscious decision not to raise the fares seven years ago.”

A group of riders under the banner Clevelanders for Public Transit read a statement to the RTA board urging it to exhaust all options before asking riders, who in many cases are struggling financially, for more money.

“Reach out to the state and ask them to provide 10% of the budget for transit like other states. Urge the county to close the gap. Address this in a fair and equitable manner that leaves nobody out.”

RTA Citizen’s Advisory Board member and economist George Zeller noted that the county sales tax has charted 68 months of growth. While it may not be at its historic high mark, it is still generating $62 million for RTA.

That prompted some riders to wonder where RTA, the city, the county and the state are spending their money.

Transit advocate Akshai Singh noted, while the City of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County and Ohio lavish $330 million on a highway extension through the city (Opportunity Corridor) transit riders get to feel the pinch.

“We need to be fighting hard for equitable transportation funding,” he said.

“I hope you rally and storm and don’t hold back,” agreed South Euclid Mayor and RTA Board member, Georgine Welo. “I do think there needs to be a movement bigger than RTA.”

Elkins had some pointed words for Northeast Ohio leaders who raid the coffers of the sales tax for luxury items while more important daily needs suffer.

“Everyone got in line for a sales tax for a hotel or funding sports franchises,” he said, “but when it’s about fundamental services for this county it’s not even on the table.”

Elkins and McCall said they favor a ballot initiative seeking a special fee, in addition to the 1-cent from county sales tax, for better transit service.

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RTA's board also reviewed cuts to bus and train hours which would curtail or eliminate dozens of routes. The board doesn't have a final vote on the service reductions; only the fare increases.

After a series of public meetings, RTA revised the cuts, particularly, where the bus serves disabled, senior and low-to-moderate income households. One example the agency's CEO Joe Calabrese noted: RTA is considering cutting The Waterfront Line, a sparsely used extension of the Blue/Green Rapid into the Flats, back to rush hour and weekend nights only. While some Flats developers have complained, RTA estimates the $200,000 cost savings will enable it to continue more bus services like the #8 on Cedar and the #81 "diversion" which serves public housing in Ohio City and Tremont. Calabrese noted that the cuts will affect 1% of RTA customers. The RTA Board will meet again on June 14 to hear the staff's recommended final service cuts.

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David Beach
5 years ago

As a friend and admirer of Norm Krumholz, a former Cleveland planning director and the leading advocate for equity planning, I would like to respond to Nick's comment.

Equity planning basically says that public policy should preferentially focus on helping those most in need. Not only is this the right thing to do from a moral standpoint, but it's the best way to build a stronger society overall. If a city provides more choices for those with the least choice, then it will work better for everyone. It's similar to the concept of universal design: if we build places and products to accommodate people with varying abilities, then everything will work better for everyone.

Equity planning has not held Cleveland back. It's just the opposite. Cleveland has suffered from decades of policies favoring the wealthy -- policies that have systematically disinvested in cities and the public goods that make life better for everybody. Transportation policy has been one of the worst offenders. By promoting costly automobile dependency and suburban sprawl, transportation policy has reduced choice, isolated the poor, degraded the American landscape, and exacerbated environmental problems that harm us all, such as air pollution, water pollution, and climate change.

The recent service cuts on the Waterfront Line are not about equity planning. They are a belated recognition that the line never made sense from any planning perspective. The Waterfront Line is an expensive toy built by then-Mayor Mike White for the city's Bicentennial. It's never attracted many riders, and its location and route make it unlikely ever to attract riders.

RTA should focus on serving places where transit is cost-effective and can serve the most people -- places with the greatest density of population and jobs, along with places that have the best potential to achieve density and become transit-oriented in the future. That's the best way to serve everyone -- transit-dependent riders and choice riders alike.

And I should add that this argument does not imply that RTA should not strive to attract the so-called choice riders in general. It should treat every rider as a choice rider, and it should fight hard against the perception that transit is a second-class service.

5 years ago

I am increasingly of the opinion that equity planning ruined Cleveland once, and in trying to rear its ugly head again, is doing its best to hold Cleveland back again. We absolutely need to prioritize linkages between meaningful transit and development patterns, particularly toward the goal of capturing more choice riders (and their fares). The equity planners (if you can even call them planners) have missed the forest for the tree in their quest to spurn choice riders and retain transit as a social service only.

We need partnerships, not political organizing.

5 years ago

What effect does cutting service on the waterfront line have on the prospects for funding and achieving better results for the proposed intermodal hub at E. 9th?

Derek Bauman
5 years ago

The real issue is the lack of state funding. Ohio provides $.63 of transit funding per capita while states like PA & MI provide ~$53 per capita. Something like 80x what Ohio does. That is where all of our attention should be focused and energy directed.

5 years ago

if transit were ACTUALLY a part of Flats East Bank, people there would, y'know, use it. it was an afterthought. it was a gimmick. there's mountains of parking down there still, so everyone drives. there's nothing transit advocates can do to "make it a success" when there's no fundamental desire from developers to do so. transit advocates can make transit a success for those who actually use it--and wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars on service for virtually nobody at East Bank instead of spending it on people who actually use transit is an asinine waste.

Angie Schmitt
5 years ago

I'm curious about the Calabrese comment about the Waterfront Line. I am outraged that wasn't cut. It's only carrying an average of 2 riders per train at not peak hours. Cutting it (at least not at rush hour, where it's still only carrying an average of 6 riders per train) should have been a no brainer. I thought they decided only to cut it to a half hour though. Is that still on the table.

5 years ago

How can transit ever again be part of a redevelopment strategy in CLE when we have a redevelopment (Flats East Bank) that incorporated transit into its redevelopment plans and, now, transit advocates demand that the transit line serving that redevelopment be cut, instead of working hard to make it a success? The Flats East Bank developers should be placed on a pedestal and honored by transit advocates and urbanists for not only pulling off such a complicated and ambitious redevelopment in the CITY but also incorporating transit into the redevelopment. Also, how do you build a broad base of support when you have transit advocates call for cuts to a line that might serve higher wage earners?

5 years ago

Thanks for that correction. I took Elkins and McCall's comments about the need for a ballot initiative to mean, if there was a vision for strengthening transit, really making it the center in a redevelopment strategy, a wider base of support might be rallied and convinced, like the sports stadiums and hotels, of its greater good.

5 years ago

Welo is the Mayor of south Euclid.

Any more details on this "special fee"? Seems like another incentive for middle class to vacate the Cuyahoga County.

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