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Time to Get Moving on Mass Transit

By Kevin Osborne · September 17th, 2008 · Porkopolis

Let’s face it: Although the price might fluctuate by 15 or 20 cents on any given day, the era of gasoline costing less than $3.50 per gallon is gone for good. And in all likelihood it’s probably safe to increase that threshold by a few dimes.

As residents grapple with rising prices, local politicians have done little over the past six years to expand bus service or offer other mass transit options for area commuters.

After a proposed sales-tax increase to build a light rail system and expand bus routes was rejected by voters in 2002, Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials have bickered over how best to improve the existing Metro bus system. The seemingly endless dispute has been fueled by turf wars and personality conflicts, with no resolution in sight (see “On the Clock,” issue of Sept. 3). To be sure, it’s not only local officials who haven’t stepped up to the plate.

John McCain and Congressional Republicans would have you believe that their manufactured drama over an expansion of offshore drilling would bring gas prices down. It wouldn’t.

Even if the GOP got everything it’s seeking, a government analysis determined new drilling would increase domestic oil production by just 7 percent by 2030 — that’s right, 22 years from now — and any impact on prices would be “insignificant.”

Democrats are only slightly less culpable.

While President Bush’s record on developing a forward thinking energy policy is deplorable — he’s obviously more concerned with maximizing profits for oil companies than with setting the nation on a sustainable path — his predecessor also essentially did nothing about America’s dependence on imported oil. Bill Clinton was president for eight years but did little to fund research into clean alternate sources of energy.

In fact, Clinton’s stance on domestic oil production was remarkably similar to the current Republican push. He never lobbied for major programs to develop ethanol or other energy options.

And on and on it goes. Locally, Cincinnati wants to expand bus service within city limits but isn’t happy that the city’s earnings tax pays for a large chunk of Metro’s budget while Hamilton County makes most of the appointments to the system’s governing board.

In June, Cincinnati City Council proposed that a new agency be created to oversee the bus system. Under the proposal, officials in Hamilton, Butler, Clermont and Warren counties would be asked to contribute funding and each jurisdiction would be allotted seats on the agency’s governing board in proportion to their contributions; service to those areas would be roughly equivalent to what they ante up.

Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune finally unveiled the county’s counterproposal two weeks ago. Under his plan, a multi-state transit commission would be created by December 2010 to include representatives from Northern Kentucky and southeastern Indiana. The transit commission would more actively pursue options such as streetcars, commuter rail and high-speed intercity and interstate passenger rail.

In the interim, the city of Cincinnati would continue using its earnings tax to support the bus system but would get more seats on the governing board unless and until other communities began contributing more cash. Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials will decide in the next few weeks how to proceed.

Whatever version eventually emerges from the negotiations, it’s well past time that local politicians get serious about offering residents more and better mass transit choices.

PORKOPOLIS TIP LINES: 513-665-4700 (ext. 147) or pork@citybeat.com



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