Cleveland Transit Group Calls for State Funding, Asks RTA to Suspend Fare Collection During COVID-19

click to enlarge "Rally to Save Transit," Public Square, 3/12/2018 - Sam Allard / Scene
Sam Allard / Scene
"Rally to Save Transit," Public Square, 3/12/2018
The local advocacy organization Clevelanders for Public Transit issued a letter Monday calling on state and federal officials to dramatically increase funding for local transit agencies during and after the COVID-19 outbreak.

Due to Gov. Mike DeWine's "stay home" order, issued Sunday, and the closure of numerous businesses across the region, CPT estimated that local transit ridership could be falling by more than 60 percent.

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.

The Coronavirus pandemic could make RTA's bad situation worse, CPT representatives said on a conference call Monday. That's why they're calling for a dedicated $250 million annual contribution by the state of Ohio for public transit. That figure represents 10 percent of the state's annual expenditures on road projects, and CPT called their ask not only "reasonable," but "equitable," seeing as roughly 10 percent of Ohio households do not have access to a vehicle.

CPT is also in support of a federal stimulus package that includes money for transit systems. Even the one-time $20 billion injection that was proposed in the Republican package would likely not be sufficient to rescue transit systems nationwide, which could see an annual shortfall of anywhere from $26 to $38 billion due the COVID-19 crisis.

CPT is also making local demands. The organization is calling on RTA to follow other state transit agencies — Columbus, Akron, Canton, Toledo, and Youngstown — and immediately suspend fare collection as a safety measure for both riders and transit operators.

Social distancing guidelines from the CDC dictate that people should stay at least six feet apart from one another, and the congregating that occurs near the front of buses when riders pay their fares makes riders and drivers susceptible to the spread of COVID-19. Temporarily eliminating fares would also provide a funding "cushion" for those financially imperiled by the crisis already.

CPT has called for instituting all-door boarding on buses and Bus Rapid Transit lines; marking seats not to sit in to enforce social distancing; and increasing access to restrooms, hand sanitizer and gloves for operators. They recommend permanently ending the criminal enforcement of fare evasion and reallocating those enforcement resources to maintain transit service.

"Transit riders and workers are depending on GCRTA board members and elected officials to use their political power and influence for the benefit and protection of us all," the CPT letter concluded. "This crisis has revealed the fragility of U.S. institutions and the cruelty of an economy designed to treat living people as expendable resources.

"When this crisis is over, GCRTA and elected officials must sustain today’s demands for substantial increases in funding for equitable, safe, reliable and accessible public transit."

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Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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