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CHART: The Best and Worst States in America for Transit Funding

According to data from the Federal Transit Authority (FTA), the State of Ohio provides some of the least amount of funding for its regional transit authorities of any state in America.

Texas, Georgia and Missouri also provide next to nothing to their various regional transit agencies, but in no other state are transit agencies as reliant on fares and local taxes as they are in the Buckeye State.

When broadening the search to examine transit agencies in the biggest cities across America, it also becomes clear that states like Pennsylvania, Utah and Maryland, Minnesota and Massachusetts invest large amounts of state dollars in transit. Some transit agencies with little state support, however, receive larger sums of money from regional transit taxes and federal aid.

Source of American Transit Funding

Ohio’s three largest metropolitan regions – all with more than two million people – are different in this regard and have the least diverse range of financial support of transit agencies nationwide. For both Columbus and Cleveland, it means that well over 90% of their total revenues come from fares and local tax dollars, while in Cincinnati it is slightly better at 84% thanks to a bit more federal aid.

“In the recession we saw transit service cut while gas prices drove transit demand to record levels,” stated Akshai Singh, an Ohio Sierra Club representative with the advocacy organization Ohio for Transportation Choice. “Roughly all of the state’s public transportation funding now goes to operating rural transit services.”

Honolulu is the only other region in the United States that has 90% or more of its funds coming from just fares and local tax dollars. Cities in other states providing next to nothing also approach this threshold, but do not exceed it as is the case in Ohio.

It recently reported that the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) is one of the best stewards of limited financial resources, when compared to 11 peer agencies across the country. One of the key findings from Agenda 360 report was how little state financial support SORTA receives.

Part of the problem in Ohio is due to state cuts that have reduced funding for public transportation by 83% since 2000. Those cuts have forced transit agencies in the nation’s seventh most populous state to reduce service and increase fares over the past decade.

According to All Aboard Ohio, the state only provides approximately 1% of its transportation budget to transit, while more than 9% of the state’s population lives without a car.

In addition to regional transit, Ohio continues to be one of the most hostile states in terms of inter-city passenger rail. The state remains almost untouched by Amtrak’s national network and boasts the nation’s most densely populated corridor – Cincinnati to Cleveland – without any inter-city passenger rail service.

“When Governor Kasich came to office, the first thing he did was send back $400 million in federal dollars, for the 3C Corridor, on the basis that operations and maintenance would have been too onerous on the state,” Singh concluded. “Today, ODOT is allocating $240 million to build a $331 million, 3.5-mile highway extension through a 40% carless neighborhood on Cleveland’s east side, a staggering $100 million per mile new capacity road, while openly acknowledging they are reducing access for local residents.”


Agenda 360, a regional action plan

On February 13, Agenda 360, a regional action plan, announced its goals, priorities and strategies for southwestern Ohio including Cincinnati. The event was attended by more than 150 volunteers, government officials, business and civic leaders.

Agenda 360 is an action-oriented plan that desires a sweeping change for the region by the year 2020, in which the metropolitan area leads the nation in retaining and attracting talent, jobs and economic opportunity and development. It’s goals by the year 2020 include,

  • Adding an additional 150,000 20 to 34- year-olds to the region’s workforce, an increase of 50 percent.
  • Adding 200,000 net new jobs in the region, an increase of 50 percent over the historical job growth rate.
  • Creating economic self-sufficiency for all, and incorporating the United Way goal of income at a minimum of 250 percent above the federal poverty level for all households.

With this, Agenda 360 has set some lofty goals, but it is not without some guidance. In the fall of 2006, about 50 local civic leaders and officials journeyed to Boston to see how they had improved on some of their lingering issues for their region. What they discovered is that the issues that plagued the Boston metropolitan area were the same issues that plagued Cincinnati’. Except that Boston had set a basic list of priorities towards improving the city that were paying out dividends, so to speak.

In early 2007, Agenda 360 was launched using Northern Kentucky’s Vision 2015 growth plan as a model. A group of leaders from more than 30 organizations, including heads of labor unions, business groups, social service agencies and public officials, created a framework for tackling the lingering, difficult issues that face southwest Ohio. It partnered with the United Way State of the Community Report, so that poverty levels, educational attainment and health status, for instance, could be closely monitored and tracked – giving Agenda 360 a level of accountability.

Over 7,000 responded to the initial Agenda 360 Community Survey. In the survey, it found,

  • That 93% of respondents strongly endorsed the idea of transforming the region into a leading metropolitan area for talent, jobs and economic development.
  • That Agenda 360 be action-oriented, contain measurable goals, and be held accountable, which was sanctioned by 95% of respondents.
  • That 88% of respondents stated that they wanted Agenda 360 to choose a few key areas to focus on that will “truly transform the region.”
  • That the vast majority, 88%, agreed that it was critical that all, regardless of background or view, be included in the discussion.

Agenda 360 outlined six initiatives to focus on,

  • Creating a quality place, where the region creates strong, attractive and functional locales in which to live, work and play. Investment should be placed in strategic locations that have high potential for development and growth, and investments should include smart growth principles, arts and culture corridors partnered through community-based arts and cultural centers, and interconnected green spaces. Locales should be more environmentally sustainable and progressive as well.
  • Fostering business growth, in which the region uses its strengths to retain, attract and create businesses and jobs. Focus should be placed on established industries and ones that are emerging, such as the advanced energy, information technology and life science industries. In addition, the region’s strengths – it’s health care industry and the international airport, should be leveraged to foster additional growth.
  • Retaining a qualified workforce, in which the region retains its younger generation and provide them with the skills and tools necessary to find good jobs today and into the future. Focus should be placed on the preparation of children, to ensure that they are prepared to enter Kindergarten, and that they are well nurtured into college. In addition, parent-teacher institutes should be formed to keep parents engaged in education, and barriers to college affordability should be eliminated. Finally, the sole focus should not just be on traditional students, but also the adult workforce – more important today during these difficult economic times.
  • Improving transportation, by expanding our options for moving people and freight across the region. Investment should be made into the replacement of the Brent Spence Bridge, a backbone of transportation and economic vitality for the Cincinnati region, and into other transportation nodes that have been built and constructed by other savvy metropolitan regions. Multi-modal freight via road, water, air, and rail should also be emphasized.
  • Including all and working to create a welcoming community to which all people of all backgrounds and views are embraced and their differences are used not to divide, but to be used in the foundation for a community’s success. This includes providing health care for all at an affordable price through the Access Health 100 program. A healthy region cannot exist without healthy citizens.
  • And increasing government collaboration, in which many of the cities, counties and townships work together towards common goals.

I’ll leave UrbanCincy readers with some quotes that were part of the responses in the initial Agenda 360 surveys,

“Cincinnati is a city with a lot of untapped potential. It is full of beautiful spaces and creative and powerful minds, but there needs to be a place where all this meets up.”

“Please don’t spend 20 years discussing how to do it! Let’s get started with baby steps as soon as possible and keep everyone involved in the bigger vision.”

“Historically, Cincinnati has been slow to respond to a changing social and political environment. This kind of a visioning project is necessary to allow the region to properly prepare itself for the future.”