RTA officials this week received an earful from angry riders who take exception to the pubic transit authority’s plans to shrink services in April due to budget issues. More than 100 people braved the blustery weather for a marathon, two-hour-plus meeting Monday at the Cleveland Public Library, where they peppered officials with criticism and words of warning over the looming cuts.

“You are hurting the taxpayers,” said Earl Roski, a Clevelander who relies on buses to get to work. “We are your employer and without us, you don’t have a job.”

RTA plans to reduce bus service by 12 percent, discontinuing routes in some areas of the county. RTA also plans to eliminate some weekend and evening service. The agency is seeking to close a $17.4 million budget shortfall. The meeting kicked off a series of public hearings scheduled throughout the week (check out for times and locations).

At the start of Monday’s meeting, RTA officials — led by CEO and general manager Joe Calabrese — blamed declining revenue from three sources: the county sales tax, government grants and passenger fares. According to information passed out by RTA at the meeting, sales-tax receipts are short because of the recession; state funding is nearly nonexistent for public transit; recently received federal stimulus money ($50 million) cannot go toward operating costs; and ridership is down nine percent.

RTA officials urged riders to focus on Columbus for help, and outside the auditorium, advocates set up tables where people could write letters or sign petitions targeted at state and federal officials.

But once RTA assistant director of service management Joel Freilich began to run down the list of the route numbers of the proposed cuts, some people couldn't resist blurting out comments like “That’s bullcrap!” and “Here we go, folks — this is ridiculous.”

This was before the public comment portion of the meeting.

Patty Girman, a library aide from Cleveland, made an eloquent plea for preserving RTA’s existing service: “When people drive past the bus stops and see people waiting for a bus, they may think that we don’t have any place important to be,” said Griman. “We may not be dressed in fancy clothing, but most of us are headed to school or work, to jobs that may not be prestigious, but they are jobs and put food on our table and pay the rent and mortgage.”

The people who spoke out included a cross-section of Cleveland’s working class: city workers, hospital workers, home health-care providers, retail and service-industry employees. Students and people with special needs, including the blind and wheelchair-users, also spoke out.

Some moaned about the money spent on the Euclid corridor project and voiced a general distrust of leadership.

Charlena Kirkman, a 31-year-old working mother who relies on bus service to get to two jobs, offered some advice to RTA leaders: “You all need to get it together and check yourselves.”

For those unable to attend any of the hearings, written comments may also be e-mailed to [email protected] A copy of the presentation given at the hearings is available at RTA’s website. Comments on the proposals will be received until January 21. — Damian Guevara

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