Calabrese advocates for transit funding at Statehouse

 Calabrese advocates for transit funding at Statehouse

Feb 16, 2016

COLUMBUS -- Joe Calabrese, CEO and General Manager of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) advocated for more transit funding in testimony today at the Statehouse.

With increased State funding, RTA may not have been in its current position of considering a fare increase and service cuts this year.

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Chairs: Senator Gayle Manning and

Representative Cheryl L. Grossman

My name is Joseph Calabrese. I am the General Manager of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, better known as RTA.

RTA is the largest public transportation agency in Ohio. My employees, who reside in 16 of Ohio counties, serve approximately 50 million customers each year in Cuyahoga and several neighboring counties.

Public transit in Ohio is a $900 million industry that supports many manufacturers, suppliers and jobs.

Public transit gets workers to work, students to school, connects important destinations, drives economic development and provides mobility to many Ohioans who have no other mobility option due to economic realities or disabilities.

I want to thank Governor Kasich and ODOT Director Wray for commissioning the Ohio Statewide Transit Needs Study, published in 2015.

This comprehensive, year-long study concludes that:

  • The State of Ohio significantly underinvests in public transportation.
  • More public transportation is needed in Ohio to serve its residents.
  • More public transit will help Ohio compete with other states for jobs and job talent.
  • This need for more public transit services is critical in both the rural and urban areas.

The report sounded the alarm for the significant backlog with respect to public transit infrastructure. For example, more than 1/3 of the 2,700 buses in Ohio are being operated beyond their useful life.

The study recommends Ohio flexing additional federal dollars to assist with this needed replacement of buses and for other related infrastructure needs, and to identify a dedicated funding source to allow the State to increase investments in public transit.

As a result of this underinvestment, at least two issues call for attention.

  1. Significant mobility needs are not being met.
  2. Employers have, and will continue to have, increasing difficulty attracting and retaining workers due to a lack of quality public transit access.

In fact, although approximately 60 percent of all public transit trips are work-related, there are many Ohioans who can’t work, because they can’t get to work, due to inadequate levels of public transit service.

What is the severity of this underinvestment?

  • Between 2002 and 2015, the State’s annual General Revenue Fund (GRF) investment was reduced from $43 million to $7.3 million. As a result of these cuts in State Funding and the effect of the recession, many transit systems were forced to cut services by as much as 20 percent and raise fares as much as 50 percent.
  • While the typical state provides 20 percent of the transit needs in their state, Ohio’s investment is at 8/10 of 1 percent.  In recent years, by flexing some Federal transportation dollars, that investment has been as high as 3 percent.
  • Not only does Ohio’s per capita contribution of 62 cents per capita fall between the levels of South Dakota and Mississippi, but it compares very poorly to the $57.71 average of our neighboring states of similar population -- Illinois, Pennsylvania and Michigan.
  • While ODOT has flexed limited Federal dollars to transit infrastructure, Ohio’s constitutional restrictions on the use of state-collected gas tax funds has made it a difficult task to provide needed funding to transit.

Why should Ohio invest more in public transit?

  • If Ohioans can’t get to jobs, or to educational institutions, Ohio’s economy will move backward, and not forward.
  • The need and demand for transit is changing due to demographic changes and cultural preferences. Millennials, for example, are much more interested in living in cities where walking, biking and public transit are viable transportation choices. If the State of Ohio does not give them the amenities that they want, they will simply move to locations that will. I contend that Ohio can’t afford to let that happen.
  • In many portions of Ohio, access to health care is compromised due to inadequate public transit services. Health and human services are increasingly focused on serving people in their communities and encouraging the elderly to age in place. Implementing these programs require a corresponding investment in public transit.
  • There are 27 rural counties in Ohio that do not have any public transit services today, literally stranding thousands of rural senior citizens and those who are economically disadvantaged.
  • Public transit is playing an increasingly important role in attracting tourism and tourist dollars. In Greater Cleveland, we would not have been able to attract major tourism activities such as the Senior Games, Gay Games or the 2016 RNC without a comprehensive public transportation system – especially one that includes rail. The significant challenge today is to continue the viability of our rail system due to scarce capital dollars to keep our infrastructure in a state-of-good-repair.

Right now in Greater Cleveland, we are unfortunately planning for a service reduction and a fare increase.  This is the last thing we should be doing, but something we must do to achieve a balanced budget.

These changes will isolate Ohioans from jobs, school and health care, but we can't spend money we don't have.

The Transit Needs Study calls for more transit, and more funding for transit from the State of Ohio over the next 10 years. We understand that it will likely be a marathon and not a sprint.

The study suggests that:

  • Existing resources be directed to transit infrastructure needs.
  • A move to further regionalize transit services and enhance coordination.
  • The establishment of a Blue Ribbon Funding committee to forward a plan for dedicated statewide funding for transit.

I am here today to ask that you fully support the recommendations in the Statewide Transit Needs Study and fully support the Governor and ODOT’s implementation of these recommendations.

The real question is not if the State of Ohio can afford to invest more in public transit, but if the State of Ohio can afford not to.

The Ohio Public Transit Association will be holding a Lobby Day on April 19.  You will be getting invitations and I hope you all will attend.

Thanks you for your attention.

Media contact

Linda Scardilli Krecic

216-390-9605, cell