This Week In Soapbox 8/4

This Week in Soapbox (TWIS) you can read about how stimulus money is helping Metro through tough economic times, Monmouth Street’s continued success, Price Hill Will’s new involvement in the St. Lawrence Corner business district, the continued merging of the Cincinnati and Dayton regions, a pending facelift for the trendy Mt. Lookout Square, and CPA efforts to find a qualified buyer for the historic Hauck House in the West End.

If you’re interested in staying in touch with some of the latest development news in Cincinnati please check out this week’s stories and sign up for the weekly E-Zine sent out by Soapbox Cincinnati. Also be sure to become a fan of Soapbox on Facebook!

TWIS 8/4:

  • Stimulus money helping out cash-strapped Metrofull article
  • Newport’s Monmouth Street continues to make progressfull article
  • Price Hill Will attempting to rally neighborhood around historic St. Lawrence Cornerfull article
  • Cincinnati and Dayton to continue their merger with pending I-75 growthfull article
  • Trendy Mt. Lookout Square may soon get faceliftfull article
  • CPA accepting proposals for purchase and utilization of historic Hauck Housefull article
News Politics Transportation

Is new funding structure needed as Metro braces for cutbacks?

The Cincinnati region’s primary transit operator, Metro, is citing that due to the ongoing recession and a drop in city tax revenue that less service is in the cards. Metro says that they are “bracing for extremely difficult decisions in the coming months,” and that they are working with several different entities analyzing options to remedy the situation.

This funding problem is one not unique to Cincinnati’s Metro as many major transit agencies across the nation are currently considering service reductions, fare increases or both to help address their budget deficits.

View United States of Transit Cutbacks in a larger map

Loss of funding:
Nearly half of Metro’s $94.6 million operating budget comes from the allocated 3/10 of 1 percent of the city of Cincinnati’s earnings tax. This earnings tax is projected to be some $2 million to $3 million less than originally anticipated. “The exact decrease is not yet known, but Metro is working with the City on alternatives,” says Metro who anticipates a $2 million to $3 million funding reduction by 2010.

Another problem is that fare revenues are projected to be some $3 million to $5 million less than anticipated. These losses are attributed to the nearly 10 percent unemployment rate (fewer workers = fewer commutes) and recent actions by Cincinnati City Council that limited revenue growth by $600,000.

On top of all this, Metro has been notified that it will see a $137,000 funding reduction from the State of Ohio for elderly and disabled fare subsidies, and a $233,000 funding reduction from Hamilton County that would help provide service for people with disabilities.

What to do:
So far Metro has already done a number of things to help reduce costs including the restriction of non-essential travel; shortened call center hours; reduced printing transfers, system maps, bus schedules, brochures and newsletters; increased fares and pass prices; and even reduced service 3 percent in March and May.

But what else can be done that would preserve the service of essentially the sole transit system in a metropolitan region of 2 million plus people?

One of Metro’s diesel-electric hybrid buses – image from Metro

It is already being seen that the vast majority of stimulus money going towards transportation projects is going towards roadway projects and not transit. It has also been seen that many view mass transit as a luxury item rather than a necessary component of a metropolitan area’s transportation network.

Metro is additionally challenged as the vast majority of its funding comes from one entity even though they serve a much larger area. A new regional transit authority was pitched by former councilman John Cranley as he was leaving office, and approved last October, but not much has happened since.

A regional funding structure would not only diversify Metro’s funding sources, but it would also create a shared funding responsibility amongst the communities served by Metro. At the same time a regional transit board should be created that would operate one single transit authority (including Nky). This would reduce overhead costs and make for a more streamlined authority that could experience economies of scale within the workplace. This structure would also result in a comprehensive system that could be managed at a regional level instead of pieced together at a more micro level.

News Politics Transportation

Letting Cincinnatians Down

I know I promised no new posts for awhile, but the moment has struck me with a series of unfortunate events from organizations and people who are there to represent the interests of Cincinnatians.

The local Green Party, local chapter of the NAACP, and Green Township officials continue to let us down. What do these unlikely bedfellows have in common? They all seem to have a vested interest against the improvement of Cincinnati’s transit system beyond that of roadways.

The Green Party most notably led by Justin Jeffre locally has an unusual opposition to the ongoing efforts to bring a modern streetcar system to Cincinnati. Their unusual tactics have included referring to this modern streetcar proposal as a “choo choo train” and likening a streetcar’s functionality and benefits to that of an electric bus. For their efforts, as perplexing as they may be, are still just words and rank them the lowest of the three offenders mentioned here.

Next up is the local chapter of the NAACP. The NAACP has a stated mission of, “ensuring the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.” Seems reasonable enough to me, and you would think an initiative that would improve transit options and service in the center city while also creating many permanent and temporary jobs would be something that the local chapter of the NAACP would be on board with right? Wrong.

The NAACP has made the denying of improved transit for Cincinnatians one of their top 3 priorities for 2009. They have passed the measure internally and have agreed to collect signatures to have the issue put on the November ballot. What is most troubling about this is that they can not put the legislative measure itself on the ballot (as it is not increasing taxes or changing law). Instead they are putting in on the ballot as a Charter amendment.

So if the local chapter of the NAACP were to achieve success they would alter the City’s Charter to prohibit streetcars altogether. That means that even if some big company wanted to come in and fund a streetcar system with 100% of their own money they would not be able to do so as it would occur within the City’s right-of-way. I’m curious to look at the language even more closely to see if it would also include something to prohibit light rail or high-speed rail efforts that would also benefit Cincinnatians and their city.

Finally you have Green Township officials. Forget the fact that the State Representatives from this westside community have spoken out against virtually every single rail initiative that this region has seen. We’ll just look at buses – something that several townships and suburban areas, like Anderson and West Chester townships, have learned to embrace over the years.

Green Township is a community with close to 60,000 residents. To its west is the rural portions of Western Hamilton County. To its east and south are the first ring suburbs of Cincinnati including Cheviot, Westwood, and Price Hill. There is little to no bus service for this massive township and Township Trustees are working on getting rid of what is currently there.

During the Legacy Place rezoning effort Township Trustees worked to block Metro from serving the proposed retail development. Their rationale was that they didn’t want to see the same thing happen to Legacy Place (no mentioned tenants) that happened to Western Hills Plaza (home to stores like Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Old Navy, Bath & Body Works, Sears, and Staples) down the road. Ignoring the obvious racial undertones and prejudice of that statement I’ll assume that they don’t want to see any massive reinvestment in Legacy Place when it too loses its newness.

More recently Green Township officials have been lobbying Metro to remove some or eliminate all of the #33 bus route that runs through the township. With recent Metro budget constraints they figured why continue the fight and decided to cut a portion of the #33 route – one of the only routes in the township – at the township’s request.

Contact these organizations and people and let them know how disappointed you are with their actions. Let them know how out of touch their actions are with their constituencies. And most importantly let them know how important transit options are to you.

Green Township Trustees | Cincinnati NAACP | SW Ohio Green Party

Business News Transportation

Ridership down on Metro

It is with unfortunate news that Cincinnati’s Metro has reported a 4.3% drop in ridership from January-September 2007 versus the same time frame in 2008, despite higher gasoline prices. This is in sharp contrast to the The American Public Transportation Association’s figures that present a large gain for the vast majority of the mass transit networks nationwide.

Of course, what the Cincinnati Enquirer article fails to mention, is that long-distance commuting is up 18% in October compared with last year. A sizable increase was also reported in August, but both did not make the Enquirer’s radar.

What’s also missing is the University of Cincinnati’s partnership with Metro that has been overwhelmingly successful. Aimed at easing notoriously painful traffic congestion in the Uptown locale, and reduce the need for parking, nearly 2,000 University of Cincinnati students and faculty members take advantage of the free rides that is funded by the university’s Student Government. Nine routes are currently enrolled in the program, and all that is required is a student identification card.

It should be noted that the Cincinnati Enquirer should not be used as a point-of-reference for these local developments. When an article is a cut-and-paste job with a clear bias, and a lack of moderation in their user comments section, one has to wonder what the Enquirer’s real priorities are. Let’s hope that they report on the uptick in ridership by Metro when the figures are released for December 2008.