Wednesday, March 10, 1999

Agency forming to operate light rail




BY TANYA ALBERT
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The area's largest transit operators took the first step Tuesday toward setting up an agency to run a light-rail system.

        The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA), which runs Metro, and the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK) agreed to create an umbrella agency that could operate the proposed two-state system along the Interstate 71 corridor.

        There's no agency in place now that could operate a system running through two states.

        SORTA's board of trustees approved the contract Tues day. TANK's board of trustees is scheduled to vote today.

        “It's the first step toward beginning to address transit issues on a regional level,” Metro General Manager Paul Jablonski said. “We can do more together than separately.”

        Members of the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) last year chose light rail as the best option to relieve traffic congestion on I-71 between Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and Paramount's Kings Island.

        When preliminary engineering studies are done at the end of 2000, a final vote will be taken on whether to build light rail.

        OKI is a planning agency that did the initial studies, but

        it would not be involved in operating the system.

        With preliminary engineering studies under way, this is the time for an operating agency to be involved with decisions ranging from what kind of cars to put on the lines to what fares to set, TANK General Manager Mark Donaghy said.

        In addition to being able to run a light-rail system, SORTA and TANK say, the umbrella agency ultimately would save money and provide Greater Cincinnati with a more efficient mass transit system.

        The agreement would let the agencies share equipment and work together on issues such as fare structures, marketing and applying for federal money.

        The two sides have worked together in the past on buying equipment and creating transfers. For example, TANK officials estimate they saved $50,000 by working with SORTA to buy fare boxes.

        The agreement “puts more emphasis on working together and forces us to look for more ways to save money,” Mr. Donaghy said.

        The agencies will keep their separate identities and meet jointly on a regular basis to work on regional issues. It's likely there will be monthly policy committee meetings with three members from each board and management committee meetings with the two general managers and staff.

        “For Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, we see this as a breakthrough event,” SORTA board President Edward Babbitt said. “We hope not only to tackle operational issues, but we hope to tackle the more difficult issues of funding and getting a regional system.”

       



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