SORTA announces plans to improve bus service

SORTA board pursues tax levy
Updated: Jun. 20, 2017 at 11:02 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Cincinnati Metro Buses may have to dramatically reduce services if changes aren't made to bring in new revenue.

Each year 15-million people take a Metro bus at some point. The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) is having a hard time keeping up with the demand. Now, they are a step closer to adding a levy on the 2018 ballot.

On Tuesday night the board approved a resolution to proceed forward.

Debbie Coleman begins the day and ends each work day at the bus stop on Fifth Street.

"I'm lucky my job is on the bus route," she said.

Teri Herzer isn't as lucky.

She works the night shift at Children's Hospital and the Metro Plus stops running at 10 p.m.

"I get off at 11 and I can't go in there and say, 'Hey, I have to be off at 10 or I can't work.' That don't work like that," she said.

Herzer said she waits an hour after her shift is over to catch a different bus.

The SORTA board held a special meeting Tuesday night to address the complaints stacking up from riders.

The President of the board, Jason Dunn, said they are working to improve service. The biggest challenge is funding.

About half of SORTA's operating budget comes from 3/10th of one percent of the city's earning tax that is dedicated for transit use only. SORTA does not currently receive federal money or funding from Hamilton County.

"Right now we don't have a permanent funding source to allow us to meet the needs of the customers and our future customers at this point," said Dunn.

He said if action isn't taken now, SORTA will be dealing with a $31.3 million deficit heading into the next year.

The percentage of the proposed increase from the levy was not specified in Tuesday's meeting. However, the extra revenue would replace aging bus fleets, expand routes and it would add more buses on the streets.

Coleman said the changes are needed to connect more people to jobs.

"When you have people that work further out like West Chester, Mason places like that it's hard to get a bus to go out there and at certain hours of the day. You have to go out to work and there's not a bus that comes or they're not often," he said.

A University of Cincinnati Economics Center Study found that 75,000 jobs in the region are not accessible by Metro.

Dunn said to get the levy passed the board will have to change the community perceptions of those who rely on bus services.

"I think there's a perception that bus riders are only African American, which is not accurate. Or bus riders are only those who are in poverty. That's not accurate. We have a lot of education to do to put away misperceptions and to motivate people and make it into a compelling fact that without this system being robust this city this region will not move forward," he said.

SORTA is expected to make its decision about the level of sales tax increase it would seek next year. Options under consideration include .5 percent, .75 percent and one percent.

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