PHOTO BY BRUCE CHECEFSKY
Monday, November 19, 2018; A rider travels aboard a Regional Transit Authority bus in Cleveland.
by Bruce Checefsky
(December 2018, Plain Press) A small group of concerned citizens attended Clevelanders For Public Transit’s (CPT) meeting on November 19th at the All Aboard Ohio office in Tower City. CPT’s Coordinating Committee Chair Christopher Stocking provided an update on the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) board meeting, recommendations for hiring a new GCRTA Chief Executive Officer (CEO), as well as ideas for redesigning the transit system.
Among key issues, the list included a recommendation that the new CEO should be a nationally-recognized expert and industry leader in transit fundamentals, including equitable transit-oriented development and multimodal, first and last-mile connections, such as Bikeshare. In order to maintain accountability, the General Manager’s and Secretary/Treasurer’s roles should be separate positions.
RTA Board of Trustees expect to receive hiring recommendations for a new CEO as early as March 2019.
CPT acknowledged that the process has been difficult. Attempts made to get more Cuyahoga County representatives on the RTA Board in support of adapting its recommendations have not been effective.
“We need to get CEO candidates for the position in a public forum with transit riders,” said Stocking. “We need a seat at the table. The process should include a question and answer session.”
A letter of support for the reelection of Newburgh Heights Mayor Trevor Elkins to the GCRTA Board of Trustees was included in a packet of information provided by CPT. Mayor Elkins was first elected in 2016 by the Cuyahoga County Mayors and Managers Association to fill the seat of Euclid Mayor Bill Cervenik, who retired.
“Mayor Trevor Elkins has been a Board member who has consistently spoken out for positive change. He is the voice of reason, a voice of reform and he has a vision for a positive future for the RTA,” CPT stated.
Stocking called on volunteers to contact Cuyahoga County Mayors and Managers Association members in support of the reappointment of Mayor Elkins.
CPT members, Justine Smith and Brain Taylor, who recently moved from Detroit to Cleveland, found similar issues with the pending GCRTA redesign project and that of the successful redesign by the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT).
“The letter is excellent and very positive. It could have a big impact on the outcome of the RTA Board Election,” said Justine Smith.
“I think it’s important to draw lines between those who support us and those who don’t,” a CPT volunteer who wished to remain anonymous said. “Someone at the RTA is definitely pulling strings to block our efforts at reform.”
Changes to DDOT’s transit redesign project had been made following a lengthy process of evaluation with Detroit community input. GCRTA has a similar opportunity to engage the local community in decision making, but efforts to integrate community input have been stalled, according to CPT.
“DDOT’s new system is easy to read,” said Stocking. “Their system basically connects 10 of the most heavily used routes under a new brand: ConnectTen.”
When asked whether GCRTA has put forth any recommendation or suggestions on the redesign process, Stocking replied, “Nothing yet.”
Among the suggestions submitted by CPT for redesign of the transit system includes more fare products, transfers, improved bus services and additional routes.
“Our bus fares are the highest in the country,” said Stocking. “We’re way at the bottom of affordability. We also need more service in higher ridership areas.”
CPT reforms include connecting rider’s accounts to smartcards, mobile apps, or credit cards. This would allow riders to pay for a daily, weekly or monthly pass in single-trip increments. CPT also recommends re-instituting ride transfers, and creating a moving a rolling period for all passes. A weekly pass would last for one week after its first use, not until the end of the calendar week.
Federal and State funding have failed to make an impact on the financial resources needed to revamp the failing RTA system, CPT says. Neither provide the necessary funding to improve transit service.
Job sprawl across the county has complicated the transit system. Without a centralized, or several centralized stations, the system has to grow to accommodate the sprawl.
The Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA), a public transit agency serving Columbus, Ohio, completely overhauled their transit system in May 2018. Since that overhaul, ridership in June of 2018 increased by 3.6 percent over that of June 2017.
COTA’s redesign of its network doubled the number of high-frequency buses that arrive every 15 minutes on major streets. The system offers more weekend service and service to more jobs. It also added additional weekend service and service to 103,000 more residents within a ¼ mile of high-frequency service. 18,000 more residents within ¼ mile of all-day service (529,000 total) now use the system.
Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority ridership plunged to a record low of 39.6 million in 2017–a drop of more than 4 million riders from the previous year. The decline of 9.5 per cent was the largest single-year drop since 2010. The 2017 numbers were affected by a budget decision to reduce routes and increase fares in 2016, said RTA Executive Director of Marketing and Communications Stephen Bitto.
In January 2018, the Cuyahoga County Regional Transportation Advisory Subcommittee submitted a final report focused primarily on replacement of lost allocations from federal funds for public transportation in the state Transportation Bill.
The report cited a continued pattern of inadequate support for public transportation, and the failure of the State of Ohio to make up for the loss of sales tax revenue that transit authorities once received from the taxing of Medicaid Managed Care Organizations. With the taxing of those services no longer allowed, the result is that the RTA faces a catastrophic $20 million annual loss in revenue.
Largely, a political document, the Transportation Advisory Subcommittee, did not explore RTA operations in detail. However, the committee suggested that beyond system redesign, “GCRTA may find operational efficiencies in areas such as improved technology, process analysis, and collaboration with municipal government. Technologies in areas such as fuel efficiency, optimal scheduling of preventive maintenance, and matching services to demand level, are constantly improving and will provide opportunities for operational efficiencies.”
“That’s not good enough,” said founding CPT Chair Stocking. “We need real transit reform. Clevelanders For Public Transit is about transit essentials. We’re here to increase our vision about public transportation. We’re all volunteers at CPT and it’s been difficult to get a meeting with city officials to discuss reform.”