Ohio facing ‘mobility crisis’ as transportation choices rapidly decline

Many people are aware of the dramatic cuts taking place at Ohio’s local transit authorities, but at the same time Ohio’s intercity public transportation modes – bus carriers, Amtrak, and airlines – are also seeing sharp service declines. According to All Aboard Ohio, these decreases in service are leaving many Ohioans stranded as they look for travel connections between Ohio’s many cities, towns, suburbs, and rural hamlets.

“Ohio is facing a serious mobility crisis,” said Bill Hutchison, president of All Aboard Ohio. “Ohio’s public officials and transportation company executives need to recognize a problem exists and start working together to address the lack of travel options.”

Intercity public transportation choices in Ohio. 1979 vs. 2009

The news comes out the non-profit’s new Transportation Report Card (pdf) in which the organization gave Ohio a “lump of coal” for the declining transportation choices. In the report, the following data illustrates that decline over the past 30 years.

  • Bus companies like Greyhound and Continental Trailways eliminated more than two-thirds of their Ohio departures and dozens of routes between 1979 and 2004;
  • In the past five years bus services have stabilized, but with some losses (Sandusky and downtown Dayton stops eliminated) and gains (Megabus adds Chicago service to Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo);
  • Ohio has lost 1,000 route miles of Amtrak train service from 1979-2005 and saw service levels decline by 60 percent from 84 trains per week to 34;
  • Amtrak in Ohio has also stabilized since 2005 yet offers inconvenient middle-of-the-night services on just three routes;
  • Airlines have been in retreat after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, with Ohio airports losing seat-mile capacity ranging from 10-100 percent, mostly due to cuts in short-distance flights;
  • Losses accelerated since 2007 due to high fuel prices and the recession. Since 2007, airports in Ohio and within 100 miles of Ohio have seen their scheduled domestic departures decrease 7-39 percent.

According to All Aboard Ohio, these cuts have an especially negative impact on Ohio’s growing elderly population, disabled citizens, and lower- and working-class families who can not afford to own their own or reliably maintain their own car.

“Given the sorry state of intercity public transportation in Ohio, it’s probably better that you travel to grandma’s house this holiday season because it’s more difficult for her to visit you,” said Hutchison.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that Ohio residents over the age of 65 currently make up 16 percent of the state’s population – a number expected to grow to 20 percent by 2030. It is also estimated that in Ohio’s larger urban areas like Cincinnati and Cleveland, roughly 20 to 25 percent of the households have no car at all.

“While one can attribute this decline in transportation options to many factors, I believe it’s mostly due to complacency. Too many just blandly plod along and accept their fate without a fight. Well, we don’t accept it and this report is an early salvo in our fight.”

By Randy A. Simes

Randy is an award-winning urban planner who founded UrbanCincy in May 2007. He grew up on Cincinnati’s west side in Covedale, and graduated from the University of Cincinnati’s nationally acclaimed School of Planning in June 2009. In addition to maintaining ownership and serving as the managing editor for UrbanCincy, Randy has worked professionally as a planning consultant throughout the United States, Korea and the Middle East. After brief stints in Atlanta and Chicago, he currently lives in the Daechi neighborhood of Seoul’s Gangnam district.