Sam Allard / Scene
Clevelanders for Public Transit meeting at Antioch Baptist Church (6/23/2016).
In 2017, fewer passengers rode RTA buses and trains than any year in the transit system's history. The 39.5 million total riders, as reported by the Federal Transit Administration, represents a staggering decline from the 60 million riders in 2007, when the American Public Transit Association named RTA the best transit system in the country.
The low ridership is a result of increased fares and diminishing service. It's a death spiral described by the advocacy group Clevelanders for Public Transit (CPT) in a new report titled "Fair Fares," (available in full below). CPT is presenting the report to RTA's board of trustees Tuesday morning.
The report outlines RTA's current funding crisis, proposes new revenue streams, and offers specific strategies for fare collection and enforcement to make riding RTA more affordable and equitable for all.
The major proposed reforms include a regional "open payment system" that would accept smartcards, mobile apps, credit cards, or key fobs — devices that would be connected to a rider's account. This would reduce delays and confusion from multiple payment methods, CPT says, and would allow for "fare-capping," another proposed reform that would allow riders to pay for a daily, weekly or monthly pass in single-trip increments.
Currently, RTA's single-trip fare is $2.50 (in 2006, it was only $1.25). And an all-day pass is $5.50. A fare-capping method would enable riders to pay $2.50 for their first trip, $2.50 for their second trip, and $0.50 for their third trip. The rest of the day's rides would be free. The same principle would apply for weekly and monthly passes and would increase equity, CPT says, by providing discounts to riders who might not be able to afford up-front costs.
CPT also recommends re-instituting ride transfers, and moving from a calendar period to a rolling period for all passes. A weekly pass would last for one week after its first use, in a rolling system, not merely until the end of the calendar week.
On the enforcement side, CPT strongly recommends restoring all-door boarding on the HealthLine, the absence of which has resulted in significant delays and a huge decline in ridership. In January of 2018, HealthLine ridership was down a full 18 percent from January, 2017.
That's likely in large part because of a local court decision last year
that said fare enforcement on the Red Line and the HealthLine by armed transit police was unconstitutional. Fares are now checked by the vehicle operator, which has caused delays.
CPT proposes, first of all, devoting transit police to protecting the safety of riders and operators instead of enforcing fares. The group suggests that duty should be handled by a team of civilian "Transit Ambassadors," in keeping with the court decision. Moreover, CPT says, fare evasion should be made a civil, rather than criminal, offense.
The funding picture is bleak. Most recently, CPT proposed a small fee on rides taken with Transportation Network Companies like Uber and Lyft. But those fees aren't allowed
in the state of Ohio, thanks to legislation (likely drafted by Uber itself) which pre-empted cities from collecting them.
CPT now proposes a levy for the November 2018, ballot, the goal of which would be to address the immediate funding shortfall caused by the loss of taxes on Medicaid Managed Care Organizations (nearly $20 million in 2018). Otherwise, the report suggests that RTA meet with stakeholders to identify additional revenue streams.