Cincinnati streetcar: Nearly $1.4M budget deficit

Streetcar budget concerns

CINCINNATI, Ohio (FOX19) - Amid low ridership, Cincinnati’s streetcar has another problem - and it’s one that could hit taxpayers.

There’s a nearly $1.4 million budget deficit for fiscal year 2020, which ends in June each year, city records show.

It’s not clear yet where the money will come from, city officials acknowledge.

“The Administration is working with SORTA to balance the budget,” City Manager Patrick Duhaney wrote in an email last week to Mayor John Cranley and City Council. “Our goal is to have a balanced street car budget on the agenda for discussion on the May 28, 2019 Budget & Finance Committee meeting.”

Streetcar opponents have predicted budget shortfalls just like this since before the Cincinnati Bell Connector opened in 2016.

The city owns it, Metro runs it and a private company handles daily operations.

The streetcar’s budget deficit for fiscal year 2018 was $883,000 and should hit $635,458 this year, according to a copy of the city’s streetcar operations fund projection, obtained by FOX19 NOW late last week.

The deficits were covered in the past but are not expected to be this time by the streetcar’s general account, which draws money from fares, parking meter money, advertising and other sources, city records show.

Cincinnati City Council must pass a budget by the end of June.

The projected $412 million budget has a nearly $19 million deficit already now.

Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman says it doesn’t seem like the matrix on the streetcar is keeping up with its operation. And that, he notes, is with the streetcar receiving an annual $900,000 subsidy by the Haile Foundation.

“The streetcar is disappointing in all of its major areas,” he said.

The community was promised 5,000 riders per day and a fare above $2 during each ballot initiative, he recalled. Yet, ridership, fares and advertising revenues have not hit their economic targets, he said.

Plus, transportation over the last five years “has had the greatest disruption with Uber Lyft, bird scooters and golf carts. That has added significant competition to the streetcar in a walkable downtown,” he said.

“The streetcar budget must match its operation,” Smitherman said.

"Council should be considering reductions in service in order to meet its budget. When you look at a budget that is suffering, the rational response is to attempt to make those two things come together, the budget and the service. So , one of the things on the table that has to be considered is a reduction in service in order for the streetcar to meet the reality of its budget. Those two things have to come together

“We don’t want to reduce basic services because the streetcar is now competing with police, fire, sanitation, all of our basic services, whatever they are. Streetcar is now competing for those precious resources. We certainly don’t want to reduce any of those precious resources in order to maintain a schedule to the streetcar. We have to make choices. and these were things that we talked about during both ballot initiatives. We can’t sustain this.”

Copyright 2019 WXIX. All rights reserved.