RTA Won't Waive Fares Due to COVID-19, Encourages Use for Only Essential Trips

click to enlarge RTA Won't Waive Fares Due to COVID-19, Encourages Use for Only Essential Trips
Sam Allard / Scene
After Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley announced yesterday that the city's Metro buses would re-instate fares by the end of the week after a temporary suspension, Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) CEO India Birdsong said that the Northeast Ohio agency would refrain from suspending them.

"I understand that many public transit systems across the country have temporarily suspended fare collection during the crisis, prompting questions about our decision," Birdsong said, in a statement provided to the media. "In many cases, suspension of fare collection has unfortunately resulted in an unintended consequence: People who otherwise wouldn’t be on public transit are choosing to ride simply because it’s free, including an uptick in continuous riders electing to take public transit for non-essential trips. The result of that is more people in a contained area – exactly the opposite of the recommended physical distancing."

A similar rationale prompted the Cincinnati agency to begin collecting fares again: not fears of proper social distancing buses themselves, but fears that free trips were facilitating gatherings in defiance of Gov. Mike DeWine's Stay Home order.

Birdsong said that in Cleveland, fare payment represents "an important indicator" that a trip is essential. And passengers really should only be using the system for essential trips, she said.

"It’s also important that everyone understand that RTA simply isn’t in a financial position to waive fares," Birdsong said. "Fares and sales tax revenue play an enormous role in our ability to provide service to the public, which has decreased year over year, 2020 vs 2019. And because there is a three-month lag between when sales tax revenue is collected and when it is apportioned to RTA, we will not know the full impact of COVID-19 on sales tax until mid-summer 2020, when RTA receives the sales tax relating to March 2020 business activity."

RTA announced last week that, due to the coronavirus, system-wide service cuts would be implemented on April 12. While the same areas that currently receive service will continue to do so, the frequency of some routes will be affected, especially on weekdays. Frequency of Healthline buses, for example, will be modified to 15 minutes on weekdays and 30 minutes on evenings and weekends.

As of Sunday April 5, four RTA employees had tested positive for COVID-19: a transit operator, a transit police dispatcher and a married couple whose positions were not identified. 

The agency has meanwhile intensified its safety measures. It has provided masks to all front-line workers (like the operators who interact with riders) and has recently purchased ultraviolet disinfectant tools for daily cleaning of all touchable surfaces on buses and trains. 

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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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