Cranley: SORTA streetcar plan comes up short

Published: Dec. 17, 2013 at 6:53 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 18, 2013 at 3:29 AM EST
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CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - The board that oversees the Metro bus system announced Tuesday that it's willing to cover the Cincinnati streetcar's operating costs. However, Mayor John Cranley says dollar commitment is 'woefully short' of what's needed to operate the streetcar.

A statement from Metro's board -- the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) --  said that the board voted Tuesday "to endorse the concept of assuming responsibility for the operating costs associated with the Cincinnati Streetcar."

In addition, a $1 million commitment was made from The Haile Jr. US Bank Foundation to seed an operating reserve fund.

SORTA's willingness is based on commitments from Cincinnati businesses and philanthropies to work with SORTA in a public-private partnership. The partnership would secure the funds needed to cover the short and long-term operating costs for the streetcar.

During Tuesday's board meeting, a SORTA consultant presented several "viable" financial models to fund the project costs. SORTA officials said the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) will also assist the board in this process and share the best practices for streetcar operations in other cities.

Tuesday's announcement will require further collaboration between the city, the business and philanthropic community and SORTA.

Notable points:

  • SORTA will not allow streetcar operations to impact existing the Metro bus system.
  • The city of Cincinnati will resume construction of the streetcar and remain responsible for completion of the project as required under existing grants, plans and contracts. SORTA's role in the construction phase will not change from its current status.
  • At a "yet-to-be-identified trigger point," which could be upon substantial completion of the streetcar, SORTA will begin providing the operating funds. The city will not be responsible for any streetcar operating costs.
  • Cincinnati will remain a party in all utility relocation agreements and liable for any related litigation.
  • Cincinnati businesses and philanthropies will work with SORTA to establish a "streetcar advisory committee" to assist in implementation and operation of the streetcar.

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld reacted favorably to SORTA's announcement.

"A scenario where the city finishes construction, SORTA handles operations, the federal government sustains its financial commitment and the private sector puts real skin in the game represents everything a productive partnership should be," he said.

"it's a win-win-win that prevents the waste of tens of millions of dollars, prevents real harm to our national reputation, delivers a positive return on our investment and mitigates the long-term operating burden on the city."

Councilmembers Wendell Young, Chris Seelbach and Yvette Simpson also believe it's good start to a sustainable funding solution for the continued operation of the Cincinnati Streetcar

However, Mayor Cranley states that the dollar commitment from SORTA is 'woefully short' of what's needed to operate the streetcar.

"We appreciate SORTA's interest in trying to help on the streetcar, but to be clear, that is woefully insufficient for us to move forward on the streetcar based on the principles we outlined last week," explains Cranley.

Cranley adds that he would not want to risk funding for Cincinnati's bus service.

"It's important for folks to understand that the city provides $50 million a year to SORTA for bus service," says Cranley. "I believe that there is somewhere in the range of 80 thousand people that rely on those buses everything single day to get from their homes to their jobs and back to their families. The research shows that in every city in which bus and streetcar services are combined, bus service is minimized at the expense of additional streetcar routes."

"Metro has no financial wherewithal to cover the shortfall," adds Cranley, "except for cutting into bus service. That is not something that I will support."

However, he states he's still committed to using some private funding for operating the streetcar. Cranley also stated that he is against a ticket tax for the Cincinnati Bengals and Reds to come up with funding.

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