As energy prices soared out of control during the past year, large numbers of commuters in Northeast Ohio were ready to break their oil dependence through hybrid fuel technology and alternate forms of transportation — making RTA a vehicle in demand.
In 2005, ridership grew to 57 million passenger trips; this is a third consecutive year of ridership gains that represents a combined growth of more than 4 million trips. Among those filling available seats on RTA trains and buses in 2005 were accountants, postal workers, and lawyers, as PricewaterhouseCoopers, the U.S. Postal Service, and Baker & Hostetler LLP joined 264 other Northeast Ohio employers in RTA’s Commuter Advantage program. They traveled alongside seniors, families, and college students who enjoyed special discounts and programs to keep the cost of commuting affordable. These commuters were joined by middle school students from the Cleveland Municipal School District who made it to homeroom and back home safely on RTA.
Others also joined the movement, as cyclists, runners, and community groups worked with RTA to promote the benefits of public transportation. Their efforts led to the organization of car-free tours, bike-and-bus-to-work drives, and downtown rallies that encouraged work-trip commuters to “Pass on the Pump.” RTA helped get the message out with the “Take a Stand” campaign that included giving away two-trip farecards.
Those who made the switch from driving to riding RTA discovered the transit authority had been almost completely reengineered. Complementing a new fleet of low-emission buses, the first of 28 refurbished light-rail cars rolled out in 2005. These cars were rebuilt from the wheels up, with many added features to enhance the riding experience. And by rebuilding the cars instead of purchasing new vehicles, RTA saved $61 million, allowing it to offer commuters that “new car” smell for less.
Part of RTA’s ridership success can also be attributed to being in the right place at the right time. This meant providing more convenient access to the RTA system through Park-N-Rides and Transit Centers that are strategically placed throughout the region. Last year, ground was broken to expand this network with the creation of a Parmatown Transit Center. And with concern over the traffic congestion that will be created by the massive Innerbelt construction project, RTA received funding from the Ohio Department of Transportation to increase the capacity of the North Olmsted, Strongsville, and Westlake Park-N-Ride lots.
In 2005, more Northeast Ohio commuters realized that riding RTA was a smart choice. If this movement continues, and Americans use public transportation for just 10 percent of their daily travel needs, the nation could reduce its dependence on imported oil by more than 40 percent — offering true freedom on the open road.
Deals were hard to come by in a year when pump prices exceeded $3 per gallon and the cost of heating homes literally went through the roof. This caused some to do without, and others to make changes in their lives. Those who decided to incorporate a train or bus into their daily commute were pleasantly surprised to find RTA offering many ways to save.
Many residents in Northeast Ohio discovered additional savings through Commuter Advantage. The program allows employees to purchase monthly fare passes through their employers using pretax dollars — for a total savings of up to $5,000 per year on the cost of a commute. Employers also saved through reduced payroll taxes. In addition, riders participating in the Commuter Advantage program received a guaranteed ride home to cover those unexpected situations requiring early and late departures from work. With this service, riders are reimbursed cab fare when transportation through RTA is not available.
Another initiative that gained traction in 2005 was the Smart Commute. The program helps residents in Northeast Ohio realize the dream of homeownership through extra purchasing power for homes near public transportation routes. To qualify, the home must be located within a quarter mile of an RTA bus stop or a half mile of an RTA rail station. More than 60 percent of Cuyahoga County residents live within a quarter mile of an RTA transit stop.
New riders found making the switch from the car to RTA was easy, especially with the many new improvements made in 2005 to access information. This included a Trip Planner program on www.rideRTA.com. The program allows riders to plan their commute by simply entering their origin and destination, and provides back a path listing the most convenient RTA service routes.
At RTA stops, scrolling Next Connect digital signage gave riders incoming bus and train information, while programmable digital signage at major stations offered riders updated schedule information along with important news updates. RTA also upgraded its customer service capabilities with a new voice response telephone system to ensure that riders can quickly access the information they need for services they require.
Last year, RTA continued to offer special service to popular destinations in and around Greater Cleveland. This included special rail service to Cavaliers, Indians, and Browns games, as well as other special events — helping riders bypass traffic gridlock and high parking prices. And airport service along the Red Line continued to be an easy way for riders to get to and from Hopkins International Airport without needing to pay for parking.
In 2005, RTA was an advocate for low-cost transportation. Making the decision to ride easy, simple and smart.
In a year that marked its 30th anniversary of transporting people, RTA demonstrated that it could also serve as a vehicle for sparking development. Transportation infrastructures are the catalyst of healthy communities. And as Northeast Ohio redefines itself, transit will play a vital role in connecting the region. The realization of this fact has given rise to Transit Oriented Development. Examples of this kind of collaboration between RTA and others were plentiful in 2005.
Crocker Park in Westlake has become a model for good use of space, combining urban-style living with retail. It also serves as a model of how transit and suburban-style development can come together to create more opportunities. The developer, Bob Stark, collaborated with RTA during the planning phase, seeking ways to link bus routes with Crocker Park. RTA responded with the introduction of the new Southwest Circulator and the integration of the Gold Line in 2005, creating express bus service between downtown and the growing Northwest Corridor. The result is a thriving center that’s connected to the community.
Many areas within the city of Cleveland are being redefined as well. This includes the historic Fairfax neighborhood, which has developed a master plan to achieve sustainable community and economic growth. Rebirth of Quincy Avenue is a critical component of this plan, and the RTA rail station at Quincy and East 105th has for years been a linchpin — connecting residents and providing a link to other parts of town. In 2005, this station was completely rebuilt to tie together the many new investments in housing and retail.
Transit Oriented Development might be a new term, but it’s a concept that has been around for some time. There is no finer example in the nation of one of the first such collaborations as Shaker Square. Last year, RTA began to make a number of improvements to the historic station at Shaker Square as part of a larger redevelopment effort. Upgrades included new landscaping along the light-rail and ADA enhancements. And in Shaker Heights, the transit authority is working with developers of Avalon Station to bring the residents of the luxury lofts convenient access to trains, just as the Van Sweringen brothers did in 1913.
On the west side, ground was broken on a new West 117th Street Station. For years, this station was the stop for thousands of factory workers at Glidden Paint, Union Carbide, and White Sewing Machine. In the future, it will be a connection point for retail, entertainment and upscale living complexes, as the cities of Lakewood and Cleveland explore new industries for the area.
Last year, Northeast Ohio made progress reinventing itself. And along many of the new paths taken, RTA was integrally connected.
Behind the scenes, RTA has created a much different type of transportation system than the one that hit the streets 30 years ago. It’s a system that employs technology to track the exact position of its vehicles, operates buildings constructed with smart engineering materials, and uses wireless communications, the Internet, and computer programs to get people where they need to go.
Case in point: the advanced scheduling software implemented for Paratransit. The $1.4 million investment has streamlined the process of picking up and dropping off thousands of individuals every week. It also has provided RTA customer service representatives more time to ask riders important questions about their transportation needs. This has resulted in a dramatic improvement in the number of customers served, evident from the 27 percent increase in Paratransit ridership in 2005.
RTA’s expertise in mobilizing vehicles throughout the county was called upon last year to create a coordinated dispatch service for seniors. Through the development of the Senior Transportation Network, resources between municipalities and other organizations were brought together to better meet the transportation requirements of the elderly. It’s a perfect example of regionalism at work.
Efficiency created through regionalism was the idea behind the integration of the Maple Heights and North Olmsted municipal bus lines into the RTA system. Service provided by both lines was excellent. But it was determined that this high level of service could be maintained without the duplication of facilities and administrative personnel. The move is saving $3 million per year.
Buses serving the North Olmsted routes as well as all routes in Western Cuyahoga County got a new home in 2005. The 225,000 square-foot Triskett Garage opened with the fanfare of a naval ship launch, but with good reason. Along with advanced bus washing equipment, articulated lifts, and a full-power backup generator, the garage will generate additional savings. It completes RTA’s district-wide consolidation plan that called for moving from four to three major bus facilities, lowering overhead costs by $5 million a year.
But more than brick and mortar was necessary for RTA to deliver exceptional service. RTA employees — mechanics, operators, dispatchers, customer service representatives — made getting riders to their destinations safely, on-time, a priority. It was all part of the TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More) incentive program, initiated five years ago. This resulted in steady increases in customer satisfaction levels, improved reliability, and greater safety. All of which brought more riders. In 2005, RTA’s employees were rewarded for their hard work with a one-time cash payment.
Like Mary Verdi-Fletcher, RTA was in constant motion last year. This led to a performance that deserved applause.
Visionary thinking has defined our region. Some of the best examples: the forethought of William Stinchcomb in protecting acres of land around the city to create the Cleveland Metroparks, Dr. George Crile’s belief that teams of physicians can offer better care, leading to the Cleveland Clinic, and John Severance’s passion to build a structure equal to the perfection of the Cleveland Orchestra with Severance Hall. In the future, the idea of connecting the region’s intellectual and cultural assets will be among them.
In 2005, much progress was made in turning this vision into reality. RTA’s Silver Line took shape on a multiple of fronts, including the creation of a prototype vehicle to propel the line and passengers. The 60-foot articulated Rapid Transit Vehicle was manufactured by New Flyer Industries. It is powered by a GM/Allison internal combustion engine and hybrid transmission, consisting of two 100 kW motors and a 600-volt nickel metal hydride battery pack. This unique powertrain reduces particulate emissions by 90 percent and offers a 30 percent improvement in fuel efficiency. The dual diesel/electric power and combination bus/rail features make the Silver Line vehicle the ultimate hybrid. After several months of testing by the Federal Transit Administration, the prototype will move into production.
Work was also completed last year on the Downtown Transit Zone. The zone will permit the efficient orchestration of bus routes through downtown and off Euclid Avenue to make room for the Silver Line. In 2005, reinforced bus pads, new curbing, and ADA ramps at intersections were constructed within the zone. Bus-only lanes were also created on Superior and St. Clair Avenues. In the future, buses will flow through the zone to a Transit Center at Cleveland State — serving as a central hub for all downtown routes.
With the transit zone finished, attention has now shifted to the first and second phases of construction along Euclid Avenue. Bids have been received, contracts have been awarded, and construction has commenced. Special attention will be given to minimize disruption to residents and businesses, with through traffic maintained during construction. Along the entire Silver Line route, property is also being acquired to create the stations and other passenger facilities that will transform a road into the look and feel of rail.
Equal to the progress made on the line is the development occurring around it. In Midtown, 15 acres of land are being redeveloped as part of a plan to support new businesses. University Hospitals of Cleveland and others are exploring satellite offices downtown. And all along Euclid Avenue, new entertainment venues like House of Blues and complexes such as Idea Center are popping up. It’s estimated that, in total, the Silver Line will spur more than $1.3 billion in private development.
Building a stronger region and breaking our nation’s oil dependence requires new thinking. An idea to address both is on its way.
Roadways and rail lines take people from place to place. But it’s community that brings residents together. This was seen in the tremendous response by Americans toward people devastated by a tsunami and displaced by a hurricane. In 2005, there were also many cases of Clevelanders coming together.
When the local blood supply became critically low, the community responded, donating en masse during the Books for Blood drive kicked off by RTA. All those who gave blood received discounts off a selection of Cleveland-themed books at Borders. RTA provided the extra incentive of meeting a local legend in person, Dick Goddard, and receiving a free copy of his Weather Guide for Northeast Ohio — a must read for snow belt residents.
Art is something that binds and defines us. With the world-renowned collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art being placed in storage during a $258 million renovation, a source for inspiration would be temporarily lost. CMA@RTA, a partnership between CMA and RTA, kept the spirit of the works alive. In 2005, it included a special Red Line Tour, featuring photographs of classic artwork in available advertising boards at stations — providing a little Van Gogh to Go.
Offering riders a different perspective of the world was the concept behind Moving Minds: The Verse & Vision Project. 2005 was the second year RTA sponsored this art and poetry initiative, which displays the work of local poets and artists on interior bus and train cards. Moving Minds came about through a collaboration between RTA, the American Institute of Graphic Arts, and the Poets’ and Writers’ League of Greater Cleveland.
In 2005, RTA buses and trains doubled as the family minivan, with several events to bring moms and dads, sisters and brothers, together. RTA Family Fest in the Flats put the fireworks into view, while RTA Family Day at the Zoo allowed kids to experience elephants and kangaroos. RTA’s involvement in the community expanded in other ways as well. Like offering convenient service within communities through Community Circulators. In 2005, a 12th route was added with the Southwest Circulator, serving the growing needs of residents in Rocky River, Fairview Park and Westlake. Downtown, the transit authority will be adding a bit of nostalgia and fun with vintage trolleys. The trolleys, complete with cow catchers, wooden rails, and brass bells, were purchased in 2005 and will replace Loop buses this year. RTA’s Citizens Advisory Board is another way in which transit responds to the community. This group is a sounding board of ideas and feedback to the transit authority, and has offered numerous ways for RTA to add comfort and convenience for commuters. As much as Wooly Bear Festivals and Dawg Pounds, RTA is part of the fabric of Northeast Ohio. Which is why it’s only natural for the transit authority to be involved in improving the quality of life for area residents.
Year-End Financial Report
In light of a substantial and unexpected rise in fuel costs, RTA maintained a solid financial position in 2005. This was accomplished through an aggressive action plan developed in the second quarter to offset unforeseen pricing and charges for expenditures that far exceeded budgeted levels. Quick response in managing these costs, coupled with tight control of all expenditures and positive growth in revenue from new riders, allowed RTA to finish the year with a higher-than-anticipated ending balance of $16.0 million.
Evidence of the Authority’s improved fiscal health can be seen in the Financial Indicators. The Operating Ratio grew to 19.3 percent, exceeding both budget expectations and last year’s posting. This can be attributed in part to a gain in ridership and fare revenue. Operating Reserve surpassed budget estimates and was just slightly under the one-month policy target at 0.9 month. RTA’s ability to cover its debt structure also expanded with the Debt Service Coverage ratio reaching 2.07, significantly above the 1.38 budget projection. All but two of the remaining indicators performed better than budget expectations as well. The one notable exception was Cost per Hour of Service, which was affected by higher diesel and natural gas fuel costs and a lower-than-projected total number of service hours.
For the first time in five years, operating revenue was up and exceeded budgeted goals. This positive turn came about from a third consecutive year of ridership gains, resulting in a $2 million boost in fare revenue over the prior year. The last increase of any kind in this revenue category was in 1997. Sales tax, the largest revenue source, ended the year within one tenth of one percent of the budget at $168.9 million. Compared to 2004, however, sales tax revenue was up by $3.5 million, or 2.15 percent, in 2005. Other revenue categories were mixed, with some categories up and others down, contributing to a general fund revenue of $247.3 million.
World events created many challenges in managing the Authority’s operating expenditures in 2005. The primary area of concern was fuel cost. Large increases in the price paid by RTA for diesel fuel and natural gas to power its bus fleet resulted in a significant negative variance by the end of the third quarter. To address this situation, a supplemental appropriation and a series of budget transfers were made to the Fuel/Utilities budget category in the fourth quarter. These actions permitted this expense to stay within budget. But a year-to-year comparison highlights the true magnitude of skyrocketing energy costs. In the last two years, 2004 to 2005 and 2003 to 2004, the expenditure category grew 17.3 percent and 22.9 percent, or $3.5 million and $3.8 million respectively.
In the category of Personal Services, savings generated by staff reductions, efficiencies in service delivery, and lower-than-anticipated fringe benefit payments were offset by higher overtime charges. Most other categories realized modest positive variances to keep total expenditures with budget expectations.
Capital expenditures remained relatively close to budgeted levels in 2005. Year-end commitments totaled $235.5 million, including expenditures of $169.1 million and encumbrances of $72 million. The many projects underway will enhance RTA’s ability to provide efficient and reliable service, as well as offer residents in Northeast Ohio a faster and more convenient transportation alternative for continued ridership growth.
|2004 Actual||2005 Actual||$ Change||% Change||% of Total|
|Total Operating Revenue||$38,997,151||$41,448,437||$2,451,286||6.3%|
|Total Non-Operating Revenue||$199,888,475||$205,141,621||$5,253,146||2.6%|
|Labor/Fringe||$ 157,419,534||$ 163, 934,412||$ 6,514,878||4.1%||68%|
|Total Operating Expenditures||$ 216,058,686||$ 219,349,680||$ 3,290,994||1.5%|
|Transfer to Insurance Fund||$ 0||$ 0||$ 0||0.0%||0%|
|Transfer to Pension Fund||150,000||206,000||56,000||37.3%||0%|
|Transfer to Bond Retirement Fund||11,304,006||14,703,000||2,768,994||24.5%||6%|
|Transfer to Capital Improvement Funds||7,728,022||6,626,560||(1,101,462)||(14.3%)||3%|
|Total Non-Operating Expenditures||19,182,028||20,905,560||1,723,532||9.0%|
|Total Expenditures||235,240,714||$ 240,255,240||$ 5,014,526||2.1%||100%|
|Revenue/Expenditures||$ 3,644,912||$ 6,334,818|
|Balance Jan. 1||$ 6,004, 903||$ 9,649,815|
|Balance Dec. 31 (Less Reserve Funds)||$ 9,649,815||$ 15,984,633|
|2004 Actual||2005 Actual||$ Change||% Change||% of Total|
|Federal Capital Grants||$ 47,691,764||$ 55,888,368||$ 8,196,604||17.2%||81%|
|State Capital Grants||3,675,597||3,177,747||(497,850)||(13.5%)||5%|
|Local Sources Local Sources
(Gen. Fund and Debt Proceeds)
|Total Revenue||$ 100,146,562||$ 69,400,599||$ (30,745,963)||(30.7%)||100%|
|RTA Development Fund Projects||$ 74,781,731||$ 88,675,870||$ 13,894,139||18.6%||98%|
|RTA Capital Fund Projects||2,353,484||1,857,342||(492,142)||(21.1%)||2%|
|Transfer to Bond Retirement Fund||131,000||370,000||239,000||0.0%||0%|
|Transfer to Insurance Fund||0||0||0||0.0%||0%|
|Total Expenditures||$ 77,266,280||$ 90,910,693||$ 13,644,413||17.7%||100%|
|Revenue/Expenditures||$ 22,880,282||$ (21,510,094)|
|Balance Jan. 1||$ 8,913,481||$ 31,793,763|
|Balance Dec. 31 (Less Reserve Funds)||$ 31,793,763||$ 10,283,669|
Annual Operating Budget
57 million passenger trips
458 square miles
1.4 million people
8,502 bus stops
22.2 million service miles
3.7 million service miles
Red Line Rapid Transit
60 heavy-rail cars
19 miles of one-way track
Blue/Green Line Rapid Transit
(Includes Waterfront Line): 48 light-rail cars
15 miles of one-way track
Paratransit 77 vehicles
2.2 million service miles
More than 1 million calls annually
RTA Web Site, www.rideRTA.com
1.4 million visits generating 10.2 million hits