Thursday, July 17, 2003

Metro looking to the future

Revive bus plan

This week Metro officials announced that a projected $4.3 million deficit in 2004 likely will mean a fare increase and reduced services. Before that happens, we urge the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA), which operates the bus system, to revive the reorganization proposed under MetroMoves.

MetroMoves was the $2.6 billion mass transit plan defeated by Hamilton County voters last fall. It involved building 65 miles of light rail train lines that would have been meshed with a revamped system of bus routes. We agreed with the voters that the light rail idea was unworkable, but found much to like in the $112 million piece of the plan involving the buses.

The proposal involved replacing the outdated hub-and-spoke design of Cincinnati's bus routes, which require most riders to come downtown to change buses, with a grid system offering many crosstown routes and transfer stations throughout the county. The success of the Martin Luther King Boulevard crosstown route, established as a prototype a few years ago, supports the validity of reworking the bus patterns.

Metro will face tough choices next year. The system has not raised its basic, peak fare of 80 cents a trip in 10 years, according to Paul Jablonski, general manager and CEO of the system.

Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK) buses charge a $1.25 base rate and many other Midwest bus systems have $1 fares. Metro must also compete for the region's share of mass transit funds with TANK, and since the 2000 census, with bus systems in Butler, Warren and Clermont counties, according to Jablonski.

In January, we urged SORTA and the OKI Regional Planning Authority to reevaluate the mix of public transportation options in the Tristate and come up with a plan that will get more drivers out of their cars. Metro's discussion of fares and service this week is a reminder that such a study still needs to be done.

The need for an efficient and reliable transit system is vital for the health of Greater Cincinnati. As Jablonski noted in a meeting with the Enquirer's editorial board, Tuesday, those who most depend on mass transit often are those who can least afford an alternative. For people at the lower end of the economy, transportation equals access, and access equals opportunity.

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