Metro Futures Task Force: Transit Needs to Change to Meet Regional Needs

SORTA business model is “unsustainable” at current levels; broader funding model recommendedCINCINNATI – After six months of work, the Metro Futures Task Force today presented its key learnings and recommendations to the Executive Committee of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) Board of Trustees.  Composed of 20 business and community leaders, the task force was convened in September 2015 to explore how Metro can best connect people to jobs, education, healthcare and more. The team heard from industry experts, held 12 community listening sessions, and conducted an on-line survey that generated more than 1,200 responses. “Our role was to engage each other and the community and be good listeners,” said George Vincent, Task Force co-chair along with Delores Hargrove-Young. “A lot of thought went into the recommendations we presented to SORTA. We know the conversation will continue in earnest.” “We all believe the discussion about public transportation must be strategic, innovative and ongoing,” Hargrove-Young said. “All possibilities should be on the table for consideration.” Among the key learnings of the group: SORTA’s current business model is not sustainable at current funding levels. SORTA is, on a comparative basis with Cincinnati’s peer cities, an efficiently run system. SORTA understands and is committed to community engagement, transparency, outreach and public input. SORTA’s public transportation service is an important factor in regional talent attraction and retention, especially for Millennials, and for the overall competitiveness of our region.  SORTA understands regional considerations regarding public transportation even though the vast majority of service it now provides is limited to Hamilton County, and its primary current public funding source is from a City of Cincinnati earnings tax. SORTA has embraced its role as operator of the new streetcar and is integrating that service with its bus services while maintaining separation and segregation of public funds used for its operations from streetcar operating funds. The Task Force made six recommendations: SORTA should continue its balanced scorecard strategic planning efforts and future decision-making should be based, whenever possible, on metrics and measurable outcomes. SORTA should continue to seek innovative ways to expand services throughout Hamilton County and implement key elements of its go*FORWARD vision, with particular emphasis on connecting people to jobs and services. SORTA’s long-term sustainability and future growth require permanent public funding through a sales tax that extends to the borders of Hamilton County or beyond. An expanded funding structure may require changes in SORTA’s governance structure as well. If funded countywide, SORTA should collaborate with the Mayor, Cincinnati City Council and the citizens of Cincinnati to eliminate all of the portion of the city earnings tax that it now receives. SORTA, per its statutory authority and in consultation with City and County leaders, should decide if and when to present Hamilton County voters with a ballot issue for a sales tax increase for permanent public transportation funding. SORTA must clearly communicate that its current business model is unsustainable and, without additional funding in the future, it could be forced to seek fare increases, reduce services, or both after fiscal year 2017  “Many talented people took time from their busy schedules to be a part of this, and we are very grateful,” SORTA Board Chair Jason Dunn said. “We highly respect all the great work done here, and we are all excited about the possibilities the future holds when it comes to public transportation in this region. We will work through our process and consider all recommendations.”  SORTA operates Metro and Access non-profit, tax-funded public transit services, providing about 17 million rides per year in Greater Cincinnati.  EDITORIAL NOTE: The final report’s Executive Summary is attached to this release. Complete report binders are available upon request.

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