Streetcar operator choice up to SORTA - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

Streetcar operator choice up to SORTA

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -

Cincinnati City Council members were unable to pass a plan on Wednesday to figure out how the streetcar will be operated when it officially launches in 2016.

"I think this decision will default to SORTA now,” Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said.

The final decision could be in the hands of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority.

SORTA gave city council two options to operate the system. The first is a turn-key contract where all employees are employed by the private-sector contractor. Costs for that are expected to be around $4 million. 

The second option would be a management contract that costs $4.7 million. That approach would have a contractor managing services and at an additional cost, SORTA would provide some public-sector employees involving union workers with ATU Local 627.

"I thought we should use the same people that operate the buses. I see the streetcar and the buses as essentially the same service,” Cranley said.

The city has set aside $4.2 million annually for the operations. An amendment by the mayor to the management option to operate the system would add another $850,000 from a contingency fund to the $4.7 million cost already in place to cover the extra union costs.

"I can't recommend this because it would just box us in. We would not be able to fund this. We would have to reduce hours, and it would prevent a lot of legal issues. I don't think this is the right way to go forward,” said Councilwoman Amy Murray.

“I'm not willing to limit the amount of money that it may take to fill in the gap the first several years to make sure that not only ATU and SORTA are running the streetcar, but that it's run normal hours and days,” Councilman Chris Seelbach said.

The union option passed out of a council committee earlier in the day on Wednesday, but never made it out of a full council meeting hours later. SORTA says a decision needed to be made by the end of June by council to avoid project delays and cost overruns.

“I have not yet determined if the contract award will occur at the July 21 SORTA Board meeting or at a special meeting of the SORTA Board,” SORTA Chair Jason Dunn wrote in a statement Wednesday.

As for the selection process for the contract that now appears to be the duty of SORTA, Dunn went on to say, “Under the terms of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority's streetcar operating and maintenance contract with the City and consistent with Federal procurement requirements, the SORTA Board will award a contact as soon as possible, based on the streetcar budget provided by the City of Cincinnati and consistent with Federal Transit Administration guidelines.”

"I think it's a shame that the elected officials can't figure out how to pick a horse. My position is that I'm not going to write a blank check to the streetcar project,” Cranley told FOX19 NOW.

According to SORTA documents, the streetcar operations contractor must be on-site by August because the first streetcar will arrive in Cincinnati in September ahead of vehicle testing this fall.

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