It’s no secret at this point that transit systems across the nation have been hit very hard during this economic downturn. The funding problems are partly due to lower ridership figures as the economy has soured and fewer people have jobs to commute to, partly due to transit being seen as an easy cut by many politicians looking to make tough budget decisions, and it also seems to be due to the fact that the funding sources for many of our nation’s transit systems are temporary streams and offer no reasonable financial plan for transit agencies as they attempt to plan long-term.
The problem is that while many Americans are having trouble affording the costs associated with owning a personal automobile, their alternative options are becoming more limited as transit service is reduced, prices increase, or both. In Cincinnati, Queen City Metro is cutting service and hoping to land as much stimulus money as possible so that it can afford to keep up with regular maintenance and repairs.
The latest news is that Metro will not operate the Riverfest Express this year during the Labor Day Weekend celebrations downtown that draw more than 500,000 people. Those who have gone to Riverfest in the past know that the area is packed with people and that getting to and from the festivities is not all that easy by car.
The problem is that the special Riverfest Express service cost more to operate than it generated in revenue for the cash-strapped bus agency. Queen City Metro officials encourage those who might have used the Riverfest Express service to instead utilize a regular Metro bus route that will continue operations as planned for that day.
What this means is that those who previously used the Riverfest Express can now take any bus running downtown and then transfer at Government Square to the #1 route which then runs to Sawyer Point, or they could walk the 8 or so blocks from Government Square. Both options seem to be an unlikely choice for those who were previously familiar with taking the Riverfest Express directly from the park and ride location to the Riverfront Transit Center.
It seems natural that difficult decisions have to be made in order to balance the budget, but how can we expect transit ridership to grow while we continue to cut service and/or increase fares. A long-term financial solution also needs to be found that will help avoid these issues the next time an economic downturn comes around. Any ideas?