Hundreds of thousands of people who trekked to downtown Cleveland for the spirited Cavaliers NBA Championship celebration were encouraged to use public transit (RTA). Many did, and the system was quickly overwhelmed. When the celebration ended, RTA users struggled to get home—lines stretched the length of eight football fields. Frustrated riders waited hours.
While Cleveland’s RTA is not designed to handle 1.3 million people at once, this problem highlights shortcomings of Ohio’s grossly underfunded public transit systems. If Cleveland had a fully funded public transportation system, the Cavs victory celebration would have still been a lot to handle. But, as the RTA Tweeted (@GCRTA) to an upset traveler: “We apologize for your delay. We know u are upset with us. We are over capacity & underfunded. We are working with what we have.” If only it had more to work with.
Ohio is the seventh most populous state with the 14th highest public transit ridership rates, yet we rank 47th in our state’s commitment towards funding public transit. Public transit represents less than 1 percent of Ohio’s entire transportation budget. We can and should do much better.
The most recent transit study conducted by the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) concluded that Cleveland needs to enhance its public transit system to the same level as Portland, Oregon. The rest of Ohio’s mid-sized cities (Columbus included) must expand to be equivalent in size to Cleveland’s current system. With Ohio choosing to spend only 63 cents per person on public transit per year while neighboring states spend an average of $25 (Michigan) to $97 (Pennsylvania), the necessary public transit expansion is impossible without major increases to the meager resources Ohio currently allocates towards transit from its nearly $6 billion transportation budget.
Although Cleveland’s public transportation system is limited, it is by far Ohio’s largest, responsible for providing roughly half of all transit rides in the state. Our public transit systems in other Ohio cities, like Columbus, are even more woefully inadequate. Local officials blamed the lack of transportation options for Columbus’ failure to win the right to host the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention which went, instead, to Cleveland and Philadelphia, respectively. Places like the City of Warren in the Mahoning Valley or communities in Lorain County have transit systems that are barely operating on a shoestring budget. Beavercreek, a city outside of Dayton, actively tried to keep transit riders out of their community altogether.
There is already a $555.3 million gap between the current public transportation budget and what is needed, according to ODOT’s own Transit Needs Study—this gap will grow to $904 million by 2025. Right now, a third of Ohio’s buses need to be replaced or they will start costing more to maintain.
Why don’t state leaders act on this knowledge? I don’t know. But if history tells us anything, they won’t unless we demand it.
Editor’s Note: Ohio is home to several organizations that advocate for public and alternative transportation who have information readily available for those who are interested. Such organizations include Transit Columbus, All Aboard Ohio, Policy Matters Ohio, and the Ohio Public Transit Association.
Photo from https://greenlakebluecity.com/tag/cleveland-rta/