Mayor Elkins Fights for Riders, Casts Lone Dissenting Vote for Fare Increases.

Concerns about inequities as Greater Cleveland RTA raises fares

Marc Lefkowitz  |  06/07/16 @ 2:00pm  |  Posted in Transit

Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s Board of Directors approved a fare increase today, its first hike in seven years. Starting in August, a one-way fare to ride the bus or train will rise from $2.25 to $2.50 (with an approved increase to $2.75 in 2018). After the public raised concerns about individual riders being asked to close a $7 million budget gap, RTA adjusted its rate increase for its Paratransit service -- to two, 25-cent increases over three years (instead of a proposed $1.25 hike).

“This decision is not easy,” said Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough, an RTA Board member, who thanked the staff for listening and making adjustments.

Some RTA board members and customers who attended today’s board meeting expressed disappointment in RTA, and state leaders, for not avoiding the fare increases altogether.

“I feel like we have known this day was coming for three years and I still haven’t heard about long-term solutions,” said Newburgh Heights Mayor, Trevor Elkins, who cast the lone dissenting vote.

Cleveland Chief of Staff and RTA Board Chair Valarie McCall refuted the notion that the board knew about the fare increases. “We made a conscious decision not to raise the fares seven years ago.”

A group of riders under the banner Clevelanders for Public Transit read a statement to the RTA board urging it to exhaust all options before asking riders, who in many cases are struggling financially, for more money.

“Reach out to the state and ask them to provide 10% of the budget for transit like other states. Urge the county to close the gap. Address this in a fair and equitable manner that leaves nobody out.”

RTA Citizen’s Advisory Board member and economist George Zeller noted that the county sales tax has charted 68 months of growth. While it may not be at its historic high mark, it is still generating $62 million for RTA.

That prompted some riders to wonder where RTA, the city, the county and the state are spending their money.

Transit advocate Akshai Singh noted, while the City of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County and Ohio lavish $330 million on a highway extension through the city (Opportunity Corridor) transit riders get to feel the pinch.

“We need to be fighting hard for equitable transportation funding,” he said.

“I hope you rally and storm and don’t hold back,” agreed South Euclid Mayor and RTA Board member, Georgine Welo. “I do think there needs to be a movement bigger than RTA.”

Elkins had some pointed words for Northeast Ohio leaders who raid the coffers of the sales tax for luxury items while more important daily needs suffer.

“Everyone got in line for a sales tax for a hotel or funding sports franchises,” he said, “but when it’s about fundamental services for this county it’s not even on the table.”

Elkins and McCall said they favor a ballot initiative seeking a special fee, in addition to the 1-cent from county sales tax, for better transit service.

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RTA's board also reviewed cuts to bus and train hours which would curtail or eliminate dozens of routes. The board doesn't have a final vote on the service reductions; only the fare increases.

After a series of public meetings, RTA revised the cuts, particularly, where the bus serves disabled, senior and low-to-moderate income households. One example the agency's CEO Joe Calabrese noted: RTA is considering cutting The Waterfront Line, a sparsely used extension of the Blue/Green Rapid into the Flats, back to rush hour and weekend nights only. While some Flats developers have complained, RTA estimates the $200,000 cost savings will enable it to continue more bus services like the #8 on Cedar and the #81 "diversion" which serves public housing in Ohio City and Tremont. Calabrese noted that the cuts will affect 1% of RTA customers. The RTA Board will meet again on June 14 to hear the staff's recommended final service cuts.