Monday, March 21, 2016

RTA Buckles Up as Transit Group Protests Fare Hike, Service Cuts

Posted By on Mon, Mar 21, 2016 at 6:36 PM

click to enlarge Clevelanders for Public Transit rally before RTA's first community meeting to discuss fare hikes, service cuts. - SAM ALLARD / SCENE
  • Sam Allard / Scene
  • Clevelanders for Public Transit rally before RTA's first community meeting to discuss fare hikes, service cuts.
Transit riders packed into the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority's main office building on W. 6th Street Monday afternoon to tell CEO Joe Calabrese in no uncertain terms that they opposed service cuts and fare hikes.

Both have been proposed to forestall (and hopefully counteract) a budget shortfall that will leave RTA with only $6 million in reserves at the end of 2016. Given that RTA spends about $750,000 per day on operations, $6 million equates to nine days of funding. (Having 30 days — or about $22.5 million — in reserve is considered sound policy). As such, the agency's beleaguered executives have no choice but to make "adjustments," they say. 

The Monday community meeting was the first in a fourteen-part series, to be staged at various transit-accessible points around the city from now until April 6. RTA leaders hope to gather intel about transit usage and rider preferences for the imminent realignment.

click to enlarge Joe Calabrese talking to the media. - SAM ALLARD / SCENE
  • Sam Allard / Scene
  • Joe Calabrese talking to the media.
"No decisions have been made," Calabrese said to the gathered crowd, a phrase he's uttered before. But it's not as if rate hikes and service cuts aren't coming. Calabrese insisted that he and the participants in a pre-meeting rally, what he called a "media event," were on the same team, and that everyone was working extremely hard to secure cost-effective transit in the face of limited resources. (The state of Ohio, in persona Kasich, having slashed transit funding so deeply you'd think we were under siege, was framed as the real and ultimate enemy.) 

Still, the only thing that appears to be up for discussion is which routes will be axed and by how much fares will be raised. 

"Option one" on a numbers-heavy PowerPoint presentation was the option that was initially floated: a $0.25-increase for one-way fares (up to $2.50 from $2.25), a $0.50-increase for all-day passes (up to $5.50 from $5) and a $10-increase for a monthly pass (up to $95 from $85). The laughable second option suggested raising the fares even more (up $0.50 per one-way ride). That second option was endorsed by only one public commenter, a Shaker Heights man who glumly suggested that if RTA leaders expected the state to start coughing up more than the feeble $0.63-per-capita that it provides now, "they're probably smoking something."

Still, the newly formed Clevelanders for Public Transit, who led the pre-meeting rally, are hopeful that they can partner with RTA to secure additional funding. In fact, the first of six demands that the group presented to Calabrese Monday was: "Do not raise fares."

Additionally, they asked that if RTA is forced to reduce service, they do so in an equitable way, (cut the Waterfront Line instead of the Lakeview Terrace loop on the #81 route, for starters). The Public Transit group also asked that transfers, once again, be included in one-way fares, and that two RTA board members be appointed to use mass transit as their exclusive mode of transportation. 

Joe Calabrese remained poised and calm throughout the proceedings, occasionally responding directly to questions or clarifying concerns mentioned in public comments. Two state reps — Stephanie Howse and Janine Boyd — took turns at the microphone and urged residents to combat this issue with advocacy at the state level. Tony Brancatelli's Executive Assistant, the 73-year-old Tony Zajac, read a letter from the Slavic Village councilman voicing his opposition to a proposed "adjustment" to the #2 route.  

Among the more interesting questions posed by public commenters: 1) Shouldn't the RTA be saving some money from cheap gasoline costs? 2) Have administrative cuts — salaries and so forth — been fully considered before the decision to raise fares was arrived at? 3) If downtown businesses subsidize the trolleys, couldn't the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals or even local dialysis centers subsidize Paratransit routes?  (One man at the rally said on the megaphone that for many of Cleveland's low-income riders, a fare increase was tantamount to a pay cut).  

The list of upcoming public meetings can be found on RTA's website

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