Overview: Facts about the Greater Cleveland RTA

 Overview: Facts about the Greater Cleveland RTA

CLEVELAND - The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) provides transportation services for 150,000-200,000 customers on a typical weekday, or about 45 million rides annually, through a variety of services. In 2016, RTA provided 18.1 million vehicle-miles of service on all modes -- HealthLine, bus, Paratransit, light rail, heavy rail, and vanpools.

  •  Local and Park-N-Ride Bus Services – 55 bus routes provide about 4,028 daily trips, with 406 full-size (40, 45 & 60-foot) buses serving 6,000 bus stops, including 1,100 bus shelters. Major Park-N-Ride lots in Euclid, Westlake, Strongsville and North Olmsted host rush-hour service. RTA also serves municipal Park-N-Ride lots in Bay Village and Brecksville, as well as transit centers in Parma, Fairview Park, Maple Heights and Cleveland State University.
  • Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) – The HealthLine on Euclid Avenue provides service and operational characteristics associated with rail, with a rubber-tired Rapid Transit Vehicle (RTVs). There are 24 RTVs, including 21 hybrid-electric.  Each is 63 feet long, serving nearly 20,000 daily customers at 36 stations along the Corridor. The HealthLine operates 24/7, with a rush-hour frequency of every 8 minutes. The HealthLine, which began in 2008, serves 10 percent of RTA's customers. In December 2014, RTA added a second BRT service, the Cleveland State Line, which connects the West Shore communities with Downtown, via Clifton Boulevard, with 15 articulated vehicles and 19 special bus stations branded for CSU. In its first year of operation, ridership grew more than 31 percent. In December 2017, the MetroHealth Line began serving the West 25th Street Corridor, and five facilities, including the Main Campus. It replaces the 51 family of routes -- the second-highest ridership route at RTA. Service is 24/7, with approximately 200 trips daily.
  • The Red Line, heavy-rail service with 40 train cars (each 75 feet long), serves 18 rail stations on 38 miles of one-way track from the Hopkins International Airport Station, through the Tower City Station, to the Louis Stokes Station at Windermere in East Cleveland. The Red Line operates 7 days a week, with a frequency of 7-15 minutes for 20 hours a day. It serves 12 percent of RTA customers. This service began in the 1950s, with a later extension to Hopkins International Airport in 1968. It was the first rail system in the Northern Hemisphere to connect downtown to an airport with Rapid Transit.
  • The Blue LineGreen Line and Waterfront Line, light-rail service with 34 cars (each 90 feet long). They serve 34 stations on 31 miles of one-way track, from the Eastern Suburbs to the Tower City Station. The initial phase of operation began in 1913. The Waterfront Line began operation in 1996, connecting the Tower City Station with the Flats East Bank, FirstEnergy Stadium -- home of the Cleveland Browns -- Great Lakes Science Center, Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame, Burke Lakefront Airport, and the Municipal Parking Lot on the Lakefront. This line serves 8 percent of RTA customers.
  • Downtown Trolley service. To connect major Downtown venues with each other, and with the Tower City Station, the B-Line Downtown Trolley began weekday operation in 2006. Daily ridership has grown from 800 to more than 6,000.
  • Paratransit services. Designed specifically to meet the needs of the disabled customers who are unable to use regular RTA buses and trains, Paratransit provides door-to-door service, with 80 vehicles owned and operated by RTA, as well as an additional 80 vehicles operated by three private subcontractors. Users must pre-register and pre-qualify. Reservations are taken by phone, e-mail or on-line from 1-7 days in advance.


RTA has a 2017 General Fund budget of expenditures of $312 million, with $268 million spent on direct operating expenses and about $44 million in transfers to Capital Improvement, Insurance, Pensions and Bond Retirement and the Reserve Fund. There is also an extensive annual capital program, with about $64 million in expenditures. 

The largest operating line items are labor at 73 percent, and fuel / utilities at 7 percent of direct operating expenditures.

RTA’s dedicated one percent Sales and Use Tax from Cuyahoga County has historically provided 70 percent of revenue. In 2016, the sales tax generated $219 million. From 1992-2001, sales tax increased by 5 percent per year. The general economic slowdown caused by events on Sept. 11, 2001, reduced that growth to 1 percent per year from 2002-2008, causing significant financial strain on budgets.

The 2008-009 recession caused sales tax to further drop by 11 percent, or $19 million. This resulted in significant reductions in service and increases in fares. Since 2010, that trend has been reversed, and sales tax has grown approximately 4-6 percent every year.


Historically, transit fares account for around 20 percent of RTA’s operating costs. In the 2017 budget, fares account for $51 million, or 16 percent of all revenue.

The State of Ohio also provides very limited funding to RTA. While the typical state provides 20 percent of the funding for transit, Ohio -- through the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) -- provides less than one percent.

In 2001, ODOT provided $43 million to transit ($8 million went to RTA), but by 2012, that amount had fallen to $8 million ($800,000 went to RTA). It is important to note that RTA provides nearly 50 percent of all public transit trips in Ohio, serving more customers that the transit systems Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton combined. In 2017, ODOT will invest approximately $7 million in the 59 transit systems in Ohio.

Annually, through a formula, RTA receives around $23 million of capital funds from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), plus an additional $11 million of capital dollars, specifically directed to the rail system enhancements. This is approved on a multi-year basis as part of a national transportation bill, and authorized annually. Generally, 80 percent of the federal transportation bill funding is directed to highways, with the remaining 20 percent directed to public transit. In recent years, RTA’s allocation has decreased, because of a relative population decrease in the service area as counted by the U.S. Census.

More recently, the Federal Government favors projects where up to 51 percent of the cost is funded locally.

Before 1997, federal funding could be used to support both the capital and operating needs of public transit. Currently, federal funding can only be used for capital purchases and to support preventative maintenance activities on capital acquisitions, such as buses, trains and bridges.

RTA also applies for special federal competitive grant funding and funding from the Northeastern Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA), which has the responsibility to redistribute federal funding locally to projects that meet certain criteria. RTA has a seat on the NOACA Board of Directors.

Service levels

In 2006, RTA provided 9.6 percent more service hours and 12.8 percent more service miles than in 1993.

Because of the underperformance in the local economy and reduction in funding, transit service was cut by 5 percent in December 2007, by 3 percent in November 2008, and by 12 percent in April 2010.

In more recent years, in response to increased demand and a more stable budget outlook, RTA added additional service of 7.4 percent in December 2012, then 5.4 percent in 2013 and 3.4 percent in 2014.

In 2016, RTA reduced service levels by approximately 3 percent on lower utilized routes.

RTA workforce

To address losses in state and sales tax revenues in 2008-2010, RTA consolidated facilities, reduced overhead and cut low ridership routes. The result was a significant cut to the workforce by almost 900 positions -- from 3,130 in 2001 to 2,232 in 2010.

With increasing demand and more stable revenues, RTA has increased its workforce by

  • 50 positions in 2012
  • 20 positions in 2013, and
  • 46 positions in 2014.

Service cuts in 2016 helped balance the budget. There was a corresponding reduction in the workforce. From 2016 to 2017, the workforce dropped by 30 positions.

About 86 percent of RTA’s employees are represented by labor unions.

  • The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), Local 268, represents about 1,900 employees. Their current contract runs from Aug. 1, 2014 - July 31, 2017.
  • The Fraternal Order of Police, Ohio Labor Council Inc. (FOP-OLC) represents about 140 employees. A new three-year contract was effective March 1, 2014.

In 2011, RTA negotiated an innovative contract with both unions that tied future wage increases, if any, to RTA sales tax and passenger fare revenues. With a formula that contains both passenger fare and sales tax revenues, wages can increase annually under these agreements from between 0 percent to 3 percent for the ATU and -0.6 to 3.6 percent for the FOP.


RTA instituted its first fare increase in more than 13 years on July 1, 2006. This was the first phase of a plan that adjusted rates in July 2006 and January 2008. It was decided that this two-step process would cause less concern from customers and result in a smaller ridership loss.

In October 2008, an additional 25-cent fuel surcharge was implemented, as fuel costs jumped from $2.50 per gallon to more than $4.15 per gallon.

As a result of the recession and significant drop in sales tax revenues, the 25-cent fuel surcharge remained and become permanent in February 2010.

Fares increased from $1.25 to $2.25 over four years, 2006-2010. The alternative to fare increases would have been further reductions in service. RTA’s customers were loud and clear during a number of public hearings that although they did not want to pay higher fares, that higher fare were preferable to further reductions in needed services.

Only about 12 percent of RTA customers pay their fares with cash. Others receive considerable discounts through the purchase of all-day, weekly, multiple ride or monthly passes. The average fare paid per trip in 2013 was only $1.09.

To help overcome a $7 million budget gap in 2016, RTA adjusted service levels and raised fares. Current fare structure.

U-Pass Program – Full-time college students at Cleveland State University (CSU), Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM) and Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA) are offered a student discount transportation pass, enabling them to ride RTA anywhere at any time. As compensation to RTA, all enrolled students are charged a fixed amount per semester.

Beginning in 2014, students at Cuyhoga Community College (CCC, or Tri-C) have unlimited access to RTA services at no cost to the students. Fare revenue is paid directly to RTA from Tri-C.

Advertising+Sponsorship Revenue -- RTA collects approximately $1.2 million per year in advertising revenue, and an additional $500,000 per years in naming rights sponsorship. The majority of this sponsorship is from CSU (for the Cleveland State Line), and from University Hospitals and the Cleveland Clinic (for the HealthLine). 

RTA Business Plan

Since 2000, RTA has followed a simple Back to the Basics business plan:

  • Enhance customer services
  • Strengthen our financial resources
  • Maintain a positive community Image
  • Improve safety


TransitStat is a data-driven performance management initiative implemented by RTA in 2008. TransitStat reviews areas identified by management as problems and then assigns responsibility to teams that propose and implement solutions. The TransitStat panel authorizes action and then follows up relentlessly to see that results are achieved. During the past nine years, RTA has held 319 TransitStat meetings, with 1,292 presentations aimed at improving process. It has reduced costs by an estimated $78.1 million.

RTA report card

Public accountability is important. RTA issues a Quarterly Report Card to the public. RTA is graded in seven areas:

  • Ridership
  • Revenue
  • Safety
  • On-time performance
  • Reliability
  • Customer Satisfaction
  • Attendance

TEAM (Together, Everyone Achieves More)

The TEAM program provides financial incentives to each RTA employee, based upon performance, as measured by the Report Card. Through a joint Labor-Management Committee, improvement goals are established annually in each of the seven report-card categories. Small monetary incentives are paid semi-annually in recognition of exceeding the established goals. 

TEAM meetings are held at each facility quarterly to review performance results, solicit recommendations for improvement from employees, and update staff on the state of RTA.

New Mission Statement

Main Office, 1240 West Sixth St., Cleveland

  • All RTA administrative functions
  • Board Room
  • Customer Service for Senior / Disabled Program
  • Integrated Command Center (ICC) -- an Operations Control Center for Bus, Rail and Transit Police
  • Crisis Communications Room

Central Bus Maintenance Facility, 2500 Woodhill Road, Cleveland

  • Administration
  • Heavy Maintenance
  • Engineering
  • Technical Support
  • Electronic Repair Shop

District Bus Garages

Bus operators report for work, are dispatched and managed. Buses are stored, serviced and repaired. A facilities department is assigned general maintenance of this bus district and several other properties, such as transit centers, bus turnarounds and park-n-ride facilities.

Other bus facilities

  • The former Brooklyn bus garage, 4371 Pearl Road, Cleveland, closed in 2004, and seeking a tenant.
  • The former Harvard bus garage, 2501 Harvard Ave., Newburgh Heights, closed in 2010, and is under partial lease.

Both closures were done to reduce operating expenses. Functions consolidated in other operating facilities.

Rail facilities

  • Rail Headquarters, 5400 Grand Ave., Cleveland. Administration and dispatch, as well as Transit Police Headquarters
  • Rail Maintenance Facility, 6200 Grand Ave., Cleveland. All maintenance functions for the rail fleet
  • Rail Service Building, 6000 Grand Ave., Cleveland. Staff and equipment to maintain the rail track, the Power and Way Department to maintain substations and overhead catenary, and the East Side rail facilities shop.
  • Brookpark Shop, 18305 Brookpark Road, Cleveland. Back-up rail repair shop, and West Side rail facilities shop.

Other facilities

  • Woodhill District, 2440 Woodhill Road, Cleveland. Bus simulator training facility, the Shelter & Sign Shop, Print Shop, and Service Quality Supervisors.
  • West Park training facility and bus training simulator, 14510 Lorain Ave., Cleveland.
  • 15 Transit Centers and Park-N-Ride Lots
  • 22 Bus Loops
  • 55 Bridges, where trains are elevated, or cars are elevated, over RTA train tracks.

Completed rail projects

On-going rail projects

Bus Rapid Transit projects completed

Completed bus projects

  • Launched two new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) services -- the HealthLine in 2008 and the Cleveland State Line in 2014.
  • Completed six consecutive years of increasing ridership, 2002-2008, something that has never been achieved in the history of RTA.  Ridership also increased over the last three consecutive years in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
  • Implemented RTA’s Ride Happy or Ride Free guarantee.
  • Consolidated 4 bus facilities to 2 facilities, saving more than $7.2 million annually.
  • Consolidated North Olmsted and Maple Heights municipal bus services into RTA, saving more than $2.8 million annually.
  • Consolidated several other RTA functions into RTA-owned facilities, such as the Customer Service Center, Sign Shop, Shelter Shop and Transit Police Headquarters, saving significant dollars annually.
  • Restructured and improved bus routes and services in all corridors of Cuyahoga County.
  • Undertook an aggressive bus replacement program to go from one of the oldest, to one of the newest, fleets in the nation.
  • Launched a track upgrade program, and a mid-life upgrade of the light-rail fleet.
  • Upgraded the communication system to include GPS tracking and real-time customer information.
  • Upgraded the Web site and telephone system to include bi-lingual operations and Web-based trip planning.
  • Received a Full Funding Grant Agreement from the FTA for the $200 million Euclid Corridor Transportation Project, which was completed on-time and on budget.
  • Initiated, branded and deployed new downtown Trolley routes that increased ridership three-fold within the first 90 days.
  • Expanded Commuter Advantage membership from 100 to more than 700 employers.
  • Installed bike racks on all buses.
  • Instituted on-line trip scheduling for Paratransit.
  • Balanced the budget in each of the last 10 years. RTA’s budgeting and financial reporting have been recognized for their excellence for the last 26 years by the Government Finance Officers Association.
  • Moved into the social media generation with a strong presence on Twitter, Facebook and Linked In.
  • Added seven bomb-sniffing dogs to the Transit Police canine unit.
  • Moving to improve the regional air quality by shifting to a CNG-fueled big bus fleet.
  • Added service levels (and related personnel) in 2012, 2013, and 2014 to address increases in ridership.
  • Provided more than 5 million Paratransit trip requests without a denial.
  • Placed video cameras on all buses and trains.
  • Added mobile ticketing capability, a major customer convenience.

2017, APTA gave RTA with a silver level award for sustainability accomplishments and commitment.

2015, Governing Magazine named Joe Calabrese Public Official of the Year.

2015, The Partnership for Excellence (TPE) gave RTA a Silver Award for Commitment to Excellence, as part of its pursuit of the Malcolm Baldrige Award.

2016, Best-in-Class Award for Workforce Diversity, presented to RTA by the Commission on Economic Inclusion.

2016, For the 28th straight year, RTA earned a Distinguished Budget Award from the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA),

2014, Smart Business presented RTA with a "Smart 50" Award, in recognition of RTA as an innovative and smart organization.

2014, University Circle Inc. presented RTA with the Building the Circle Award for completing the Cedar-University Station, and contributing to the growth of University Circle.

2014, Metro Magazine named Joe Calabrese was one of the Most Influential People of the Decade (2004-2014) in public transit.

2014, Leonard Ronis Leadership Award presented to Joe Calabrese by the Ohio Public Transit Association (OPTA)

2014, Distinguished Budget Award from the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) for the last 26 consecutive years.

2013, Pioneer and Spirit Awards from The Partnership for Excellence for progress in achieving the Malcolm Baldridge Award for Excellence.

2013, Joseph D. Pigott Leadership Award presented to Joe Calabrese by University Circle Inc. (UCI)

2013, Public-Private Partnership Award presented to RTA by the International Economic Development Council, jointly with the City of Cleveland, for the expansion of the Downtown Trolleys.

2012, HealthLine named the Best BRT System in North America.
2013, HealthLine named the best public transit project in North America for an economic return on investment of $114 to $1.
Both awards presented by the Institute for Transportation Development Policy.

2012, Ohio Honor Awards presented by the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) for the East 55th Street Rapid Station, and the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Transit Center.

2012, George V. Voinovich Award presented to Joe Calabrese as the Public Works Employee-of-the-Year, by Build Up Greater Cleveland.

2011, Award of Excellence presented for the HealthLine by the Urban Land Institute.

2011, Engineering Excellence Award for Euclid Corridor Transportation Project -- which resulted in the HealthLine -- by American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC).

2011, Tech Innovation Award for TransitStat from Mass Transit Magazine.

2010, 2011, 2012, Outstanding Transit Safety Program Gold Award presented by APTA to RTA for its overall safety program.

2010, 2011, Best-in-Class Award for Senior Management Diversity presented to RTA by the Commission on Economic Inclusion.

2010, Ohio’s Engineering Project-of-the-Year Award for the HealthLine presented by the Ohio Chapter of American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC).

2009, John Hill Award for Excellence in Public Relations and Communications presented to Joe Calabrese by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

2008, Outstanding Transit Manager Award, presented to Joe Calabrese by APTA.

2008, Downtown Development Award for the HealthLine from the Downtown Cleveland Alliance.

2008, Enhancing Ridership Award, presented by the FTA to RTA for six consecutive years of ridership growth.

2008, World-Class Customer Service Award, presented to RTA by Lexus and Smart Business Magazine.

2007, Outstanding Public Transportation System, as the nation’s top large transit system, presented by APTA.

2006, Outstanding Board Member Award, presented to long-time RTA Board President George F. Dixon III by APTA.