Fare increases slated for the next two years are now officially off the table and RTA has lowered the price for an all-day pass.
Those were the two major developments out of today's RTA board of trustees meeting that signaled progress but which local advocacy group Clevelanders for Public Transit cautioned didn't go far enough.
(The fare increases were approved in 2016 but have been repeatedly postponed and, of late, tentatively slated for 2021 and 2022. There was some confusion amongst board members last week after they were alerted that the then-proposed policy to reduce all-day fare included cementing the fare increases, which led to the issue being pushed back until today.)
“Pre-COVID, RTA Ridership was already at an all-time low due to RTA charging riders double the fare for declining service,” said Dana Beveridge, daily RTA rider and CPT Lead Organizer. “Higher fares decrease ridership, and lower ridership is used to justify service cuts. This death spiral must be reversed.”
An all-day fare now runs $5 instead of $5.50 and regular fare rates will remain steady for at least the next two years. That's good news for riders — as CPT has told anyone who will listen, RTA's fares have doubled in the past 15 years coinciding with a 25-percent reduction in service.
RTA, like other public transit agencies, is facing significant financial issues thanks to the pandemic. Its situation is unique in other ways though, as we wrote earlier this year:
And while fares account for only 10-15 percent of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority's (RTA's) revenue, declining ridership could accelerate a death spiral that the agency has been plummeting down for years. Since 2006, CPT's Chris Stocking reported, RTA has raised fares five times while service has declined by 25 percent. On top of that, RTA is now losing roughly $20 million each year after former Gov. John Kasich made changes to how the state collects taxes on Medicaid managed care organizations.
Sales tax collections, which makes up the brunt of funding for RTA's budget, were down heavily in the summer but only 3.5% year-over-year so far. Ridership levels hit a pandemic low of 780,000 in April but had grown to 1.2 million in June, RTA said last month, about half of what that number was in June of 2019. Fare collection has obviously been hit heavy but RTA received $111 million of pandemic-related federal aid, more than half of which it has already spent.
CPT, meanwhile, noted that cash fares are still not eligible for free transfer, which is one of the many facets in which RTA is failing its riders, many of whom are double-paying for trips. Fare equity and dependable service, the group has long argued, will be what drivers riders back to the service.
CPT is also calling on RTA to rescind a temporary $0.25 fuel surcharge instituted in 2008 during peak gas prices that became permanent in 2010.
"Gas prices have dropped significantly since then, defeating the purpose of a fuel surcharge meant to relieve the agency’s budget from then-costly fuel expenses," the group said in a statement.