While Cincinnati’s $133 million streetcar project remains in limbo, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is taking a deep look at the state’s existing transit systems to encourage more efficiency and cost effectiveness.
Specifically, ODOT says the “Ohio Statewide Transit Needs Study” is necessary to evaluate the performance of different transit systems around the state as demand grows and budgets shrink.
“Travel trends show that there is a definite rise in the need for convenient, affordable public transportation to jobs, medical appointments, shopping and recreational activities. Our transit agencies are struggling to fund this existing service, let alone meet the increased demand,” ODOT’s website states.
Starting the last week of October, ODOT began sending out rider surveys to people who use transit services to collect their thoughts on current services and input on possible improvements. The surveys are being conducted with the help of 61 transit agencies around Ohio, and ODOT expects to complete them in mid-November.
“The rider survey is just the first step of our public outreach and technical effort,” said Marianne Freed, administrator of ODOT’s Office of Transit, in a statement. “Our goal is to evaluate the unique transportation needs for communities statewide, whether it’s a large city or a rural county.”
The ultimate goal, according to ODOT, is “to develop a long-term strategy to determine how to best stretch limited dollars while meeting the demands of Ohio’s riders today and in the future.”
ODOT will release the study’s findings at www.TransitNeedsStudy.ohio.gov.
If ODOT does find inadequate budgets for rising demand, the agency also might find itself partly culpable.
It was ODOT’s Transportation Review Advisory Council that pulled $52 million in federal funding from the streetcar project once Gov.
Kasich also declined $400 million in federal funds for the 3C passenger rail line, which would have connected Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus and Cleveland. The federal funds ended up going to California and other states that embraced light rail, The Plain Dealer previously reported.
ODOT’s study also arrives as Cincinnati debates its own transit needs. On Tuesday, the city elected a mayor and City Council majority that opposes to the ongoing streetcar project.
If the streetcar project is canceled, it wouldn’t be the first time Cincinnati gave up on a new transit system in the middle of construction. The city also pulled out of building a subway system in the 1920s. The defunct subway tunnels now serve as a tourist attraction.
The subway failure and political threats to the streetcar project are two of the reasons Urbanophile, a national urbanist blog, described Cincinnati’s culture as “one of smug self-regard and self-sabotage” in a blog post on Thursday.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Mayor-elect John Cranley denied that Cincinnati holds an anti-transit mentality. Cranley pointed out that local voters in the 1970s decided to increase their earnings tax to support the Metro bus system. He says it comes down to weighing the costs and benefits.