Where is ODOT’s “Passenger Division”?

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What would Ohio’s transportation system look like if the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) had the same passion for moving people as it does for moving freight?

That question is being asked by the nonprofit All Aboard Ohio as ODOT seeks to create a Division of Freight to oversee the rail, maritime and trucking modes to foster more intermodal connectivity for cargo. As part of this, the Ohio Rail Development Commission would cease to exist as an independent commission and instead be fully assimilated into ODOT.

Please ask your state legislators in Columbus to support at least $62.5 million per year in state and federal funds for ODOT Public Transit for urban, rural and intercity public transportation capital and operating support. This amount was a draft policy recommendation to ODOT by its consultants who assessed Ohio’s critical public transportation needs outlined in a recent ODOT report. Without a larger state funding share for transit, Ohio cannot leverage federal transportation funds that are instead going to states and cities with robust transit programs.

Please contact your STATE REPRESENTATIVE and your STATE SENATOR.

So why isn’t ODOT pursuing an effort similar to its proposed Freight Division to create an ODOT Division of Passengers to foster more intermodal passenger transportation among intercity, regional, rural and urban buses and trains, cars, bikes, Amish buggies, walking and ground transportation access to/from airports?

“The reason is that, unlike freight where state leaders are appropriately focused on the movement of goods, your state officials aren’t yet focused on the movement of people but rather their vehicles,” said All Aboard Ohio Executive Director Ken Prendergast. “Thus, if an Ohioan can’t afford to drive, isn’t able to drive or doesn’t want to drive a car, then your state officials may not understand your transportation needs. That’s a lot of Ohioans being neglected and isolated.”

How many? One million Ohioans are without a car to get to work, school or between cities.

According to the U.S. Census’ American Community Survey, 25 percent of Cleveland households have no car; 23 percent in Cincinnati; 20 percent in Dayton; 10 percent in Columbus. Even households that have cars may not be able to fully use them. For example, many cars aren’t maintained for safe, reliable operation due to the decline in Ohioans’ real wages and the high cost of driving.

The cost of owning and maintaining a car is nearly $9,000 per year. Basically that’s a transportation system access fee that all Ohioans are forced to pay by the government due to its lack of support for less expensive passenger transportation alternatives. Many Ohioans don’t earn more than $15 per hour — the minimum income needed to afford owning a car.

Also, Census data shows that 13 percent of Ohioans are 65 years and older today. That will rise to 20 percent by 2030. After the age of 65, physical driving abilities erode dramatically. The large Baby Boom generation began turning 65 years old in 2011. Increasing numbers of elderly Ohioans face house arrest as Baby Boomers demand a level of mobility and an active lifestyle that far outpaces any of America’s previous generations, and thus outstrips the current resources of public transportation systems to provide that mobility.

Employers in Ohio depend on access to labor and thus need public transportation. Many companies are forced to provide their own employee shuttles at their own expense to get workers to their factories, warehouses, hospitals and other large places of employment. Small business owners can’t afford to provide their own employee transportation. The typical job is accessible to only about 27 percent of its metropolitan workforce by transit in 90 minutes or less.

Furthermore, Ohio is a populous state with metro areas spaced ideally for passenger rail. Ohio is tied with Florida and Texas with the second-most metro areas of 500,000 or more people. Only California has more large metros. Yet California, Florida and Texas are all developing fast passenger train infrastructure and services linking their cities with a mix of private and public funds. Ohio has chosen to be a passenger rail pariah.

ODOT Director Jerry Wray gave testimony this week on ODOT’s 2016-2017 biennial budget to the Ohio House of Representatives Finance & Appropriations Committee. READ WRAY’S TESTIMONY HERE.

“In his testimony, Wray said ODOT will promote more seamless connectivity among transportation modes to find the most cost-effective, timely and reliable services, routes and facilities to move freight in and through Ohio,” Prendergast said. “Replace that word ‘freight’ with ‘passengers’ and Ohio would gain a sound policy foundation upon which a truly multi-modal transportation system can be built to mobilize more people to fully participate in Ohio’s economy.”

Sadly, state leaders ignored most of ODOT’s 2014 Statewide Transit Needs Study. A proposed change in the state’s sales tax policies in terms of what commercial activities may be taxed could result in a small funding boost for transit systems that benefit from county-based sales taxes. While funding increases are welcome, much more support is needed in all 88 counties to address the large, growing and unmet needs of Ohio transit systems and its benefit would be limited to only eight counties:

  • Cuyahoga (Cleveland)
  • Franklin (Columbus)
  • Lake (Painesville)
  • Mahoning (Youngstown)
  • Montgomery (Dayton)
  • Portage (Kent)
  • Stark (Canton)
  • Summit (Akron).

That leaves out 80 Ohio counties including Allen, Belmont, Butler, Clark, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lorain, Lucas, Muskingum, Richland, Trumbull, Wood and other populous counties.

The Ohio Statewide Transit Needs Study reported that Ohio should spend $1.1 billion per year over the next decade to meet growing ridership, operating costs and capital improvement needs (ie: new buses, trains, waiting shelters/stations, facilities, etc). However, local governments currently spend only $659 million per year. Transit spending must double to meet the need that ODOT’s report measured.

Instead, state leaders offered to increase its tiny $7.3 million per year transit spending by a mere $1 million in 2016 and again in 2017, or an extra 0.03% of ODOT’s budget. Thus, the roughly 60 cents per capita that Ohio spends on transit will rise to a still-pathetic 70 cents paid by each Ohioan per year. What else can you get for 70 cents?

  • 1 gallon of gasoline — in 1998
  • Wages paid to a woman in America for every $1 we pay a man
  • A taco on any Monday at El Ranchero’s
  • One hour of work in a 16-hour workday for a 13-year-old child making iPhone parts in Shenzen, China
  • One hour of work from an American iron worker — in 1915
  • A watt of electricity from rooftop solar panels
  • A double coupon at Fred’s Super Dollar store every Saturday
  • State taxes paid by each Ohioan over an entire year to support public transportation.

By comparison, the top-10 states in terms of their annual support of public transportation all invest at least $50 per capita. Ohio, the nation’s seventh-most populous state, spends less than West Virginia, North Dakota, South Dakota or Wyoming on public transit.

At the Ohio House hearing last week, state representatives like Emilia Sykes (D-Akron) and Dan Ramos (D-Lorain) pressed asked why Ohio isn’t doing more to help address public transportation capital and operating needs that are greater than the ability of local governments to address them on their own.

“Local communities are primarily responsible for devising their own public transportation systems since Ohio is a home rule state,” Wray responded.

Yet ODOT is willing to provide a tiny amount of funding to rural and small urban transit systems, and Ohio spent much more on transit in the past — $42 million per year in 2001 — which apparently wasn’t in violation of home rule. And of course ODOT pours massive operating subsidies into maintaining roads in townships and small towns that otherwise can’t afford to maintain the roads themselves. Meanwhile urban areas must maintain their state and federal thoroughfares, including removing snow and ice, maintaining storm drains, and cutting grass or other landscaping. These are some of the examples of cities subsidizing suburbs and rural areas, thereby undermining cities which are the incubators of innovation and economic growth.

Rep. Ramos noted that young people are choosing to relocate to cities that have good public transportation — few of which are in Ohio. He asked Wray how the state could help local communities to “build a real multi-modal human transportation system.” Instead Wray told him to go ask someone else for the money.

“Nobody has the money to build it,” Wray said. “I recommend you work with metropolitan planning organizations on the issue.”

Wray will testify further about the ODOT budget request this coming week to the Ohio House Finance Subcommittee. Then the Ohio Senate will hold hearings. Again, please ask your state legislators in Columbus to support $62.5 million per year (not including federal elderly/disabled funds Ohio will get anyway) for ODOT Public Transit for urban, rural and intercity public transportation.

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1 Comment to "Where is ODOT’s “Passenger Division”?"

  1. February 8, 2015 - 3:08 AM | Permalink

    As an advocate for better passenger service in Ohio; could not agree more with this article.

    Anything we can do at the Ohio Railroader…let us know! We cover the Ohio Valley/Great Lakes region and always champion for better passenger service.

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