Smitherman calls for temporary closure of streetcar due to COVID-19

Updated: Mar. 29, 2020 at 3:11 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman proposed legislation Sunday to temporarily close the Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcar as a precaution against the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Disruptions in our budget will require difficult decisions to be made. We MUST prioritize our core and city workers,” Smitherman said in a tweet.

Smitherman says before the spread of the virus, the streetcar was averaging 1,400 riders a day while costing taxpayers $3.2 million on average per year to keep it going.

Now, the streetcar averages 250 riders per day.

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“It is very important at this time to send the message that we are doing everything in our power to migrate any job loss for our great city workers,” said Smitherman. “The motion to temporarily suspend streetcar operations is simply a 90 day pause.”

Mayor Cranley stated Friday the city has to take action to preserve essential services like police, fire, sanitation, water and public health.

According to a memo from the city, there will be a “massive General Fund shortfall for the remainder of this fiscal year as well as FY 2021.”

Preliminary estimates show a $60-$80 million deficit for fiscal year 2021 because of the financial impact the coronavirus has had, the memo states.

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“We also realize that, unlike Washington D.C. and the capital, we cannot print money,” Cranley said. “So we have to take temporary emergency actions to preserve our ability to provide those basic services.”

Cranley said he would detail those actions Monday, but teased they would involve temporary cuts and layoffs, similar to what other Ohio cities have done.

“If you (...) look at what Dayton and Akron have done, it is similar in that they have asked people to do a temporary leave with the intention of bringing them back when the crisis is nearing its end,” the mayor said.

Cincinnati Metro announced Sunday it will temporarily suspend all fare collection and modify service beginning March 29 to "continue providing essential service to the community as safely as possible, while balancing service level needs.”

The city took over control of streetcar operations from Metro at the end of 2019.

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