At long last, the conversation has begun — about creating a multi-county public transit system of nodes and regional connectors for Northeast Ohio. It’s a vision that will include the best attributes of walking, bikes, private transportation network companies, circulator/mainline/rapid buses, modernized and expanded urban rail lines, regional commuter railroad lines and multimodal stations that conveniently unite transportation services and are magnets for accessible jobs, quality housing, education and services.
All Aboard Ohio began the conversation a year ago when it became apparent that some of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s system, especially the light-rail trains, would likely not be able to continue operating absent significant additional funds for modernization. GCRTA’s three rail lines carry 20 percent of the weekday ridership in the agency’s nearly 60-route transit network. GCRTA has nearly $600 million in state-of-good-repair needs it can’t afford and $2 billion in planned but unfunded expansions so that isolated Northeast Ohioans can reach jobs, education and other opportunities. If the region truly values this public transportation asset and wants to mobilize its underutilized, isolated labor resources, then the existing models of funding and providing it need a major overhaul to retain, improve and expand that asset.
Just a few months ago, All Aboard Ohio Executive Director Ken Prendergast called for Northeast Ohio’s leaders to create a task force to address the need for a multi-county public transportation system. Those leaders are now taking that request seriously, based on recent articles Creating a multi-county public transit system in Northeast Ohio, and Cuyahoga County putting a renewed focus on public transit.
While All Aboard Ohio members (join us today!) will want to know what routes, services and modes should be offered, right now leaders are grappling with political, institutional, financial and organizational questions. The answers will likely require state action, such as the legislature passing a charter for a new transit organization, be it a merger of existing county-based agencies or the creation of an inter-county transit “umbrella” organization. Either way, any inter-county organization will require state action.
Increased state funding is also desperately needed. But there’s a possibility that the counties will have to come up with most if not all of the construction and operating money themselves — especially for operations. How much money? Just to address current backlog of state-of-good-repair needs for all transit systems in Northeast Ohio, the tab is more than $600 million. If you add in transit expansion projects that the transit agencies have planned but can’t move forward on due to lack of funds, that tab exceeds $2 billion. Operating and maintenance costs will require tens of millions of dollars more per year.
Issuing bonds with a good rating to leverage federal funds (and some state and private money) means having a dedicated revenue stream of $100 million or more per year. A 20-year, half-cent of additional sales tax for transit in each county served would provide the necessary funds. But what other funding sources (parking tax?), funding mechanisms (TIFs?), service delivery models (competitive bidding of intercounty rail/bus services?) and other ideas could also be considered?
Yes, the conversation about true regional transportation has finally started in Northeast Ohio. Where will it lead? Join us today so you can help shape it!