Commentary: Ohio's public transit systems need financial support, not cuts

Gov. Mike DeWine’s budget as introduced in early February would deal a devastating blow to public transportation in Ohio and the people it serves.

Funding for public transit in the proposed state budget was slashed by nearly 90% compared to funds appropriated by the General Assembly just two years ago – down from $70 million to $7.3 million. This cut was not because of budgetary issues or lack of need.

According to the Ohio Department of Transportation’s Transit Needs Study, the state should allocate $200 million per year to public transportation. The American Society of Civil Engineers recently gave Ohio’s public transit infrastructure a “D” grade.

Due to the lack of clear dedicated funding, transit spending in Ohio is set in the two-year state budget. This creates volatility in funding as demonstrated by the proposed budget and does not allow transit systems to plan long term.

Public transit creates opportunities for independence and provides access to community resources for those with no other means of transportation. One Stark Area Regional Transit Authority rider stated that without public transit, they would miss life-sustaining medical treatment. Another passenger uses our services to get their children to school and without it, they would not have access to childcare.

Metro Regional Transit Authority and Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority have riders with similar stories to tell. Public transit is the lifeline of our communities. Without reliable public transit, Ohioans would miss critical medical appointments, students would not be able to get to school, and people would be unable to make daily essential trips.

The COVID-19 pandemic solidified the essential nature of public transit. PARTA, SARTA and Metro RTA provided more than 6 million trips in 2020 for those who rely on public transportation to get to work, school, medical appointments, the grocery store, and fulfill other life-necessary trips.

While the federal COVID relief packages provided much needed, short-term assistance during this unprecedented year, public transportation agencies have been faced with a drastic increase in operational costs and reduced revenues that will take years to return to pre-pandemic levels, if they ever do.

PARTA, SARTA, and Metro RTA are pleased the Ohio House of Representatives’ Finance Committee restored some of the transit funding cut from the budget.

We strongly encourage the Ohio Senate and Gov. DeWine to support this move. If not, thousands of Ohioans will not be able to make their life-necessary trips and many jobs will be at risk. Ohio needs transit, now more than ever. Restore transit funding to save Ohio transit.

Claudia Amrhein is general manager/CEO of the Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority in Portage County. Dawn Distler is CEO of Metro Regional Transit Authority in Summit County. Kirt Conrad is executive director/CEO of Stark Area Regional Transit Authority in Stark County.

Commentary: Ohio's public transit systems need financial support, not cuts (cantonrep.com)