The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority is proposing increasing bus and train fares across the board this summer for the first time in 13 years. But one group is already gearing up to fight the rate hike. ideastream's Karen Schaefer reports.
Last year, 57 million people rode buses and trains on the Cleveland RTA. According to transit authority figures, that's a 3% increase over 2004 - the third year in a row ridership has gone up. But this year, RTA officials say to balance the books they need to raise fares between 25- and 50-cents a ride or else cut service. Standing at a Euclid Avenue bus stop with her daughter, Peggy Faulkner of Cleveland says that's not welcome news.
Peggy Faulkner: I go to work on the bus, I go shopping on the bus. They don't need to raise the fare.
Faulkner says she wouldn't mind a fare increase as much if service was improved.
Peggy Faulkner: Service isn't as good as it used to be. They've combined a lot of lines. Where the one bus travels from the east side to the west side, it's longer. They're not on time all the time. I know, I ride them every day. Bus service stinks.
RTA General Manager Joe Calabrese admits some bus service has been consolidated in recent years to save money. He says by reducing staff, eliminating old buses and integrating bus service with neighboring communities, the RTA is now saving taxpayers $25 million a year. But Calabrese says whopping increases in operating expenses make higher fares unavoidable. He says it all comes down to the high price at the pump.
Joe Calabrese: The cost of diesel fuel is killing us. While RTA paid about $4 million for diesel fuel in 2002, this year we'll be spending close to $14 million. And that's the reason for the increase.
Starting next week, RTA officials will hold a series of eight public hearings on their proposed fare hike. One ad hoc citizen group is already organizing a protest. Dan Trenton, a member of Stop the RTA Rate Hike, doesn't own a car. He rides the bus every day. Trenton believes it's not the high price of gas, but the Euclid Corridor development project that's driving up RTA expenses. Without it, he says, the RTA could save up to $20 million.
Dan Trenton: Canceling the Euclid Corridor project, that extravagance that RTA could never afford in the first place, is one way to do that. RTA doesn't want to hear that.
Trenton says RTA's share of the project cost - estimated by transit officials to be about $17 million - would easily pay for increased fuel costs. RTA chief Joe Calabrese disagrees.
Joe Calabrese: Not one penny of bus fares has ever or will ever go to the Euclid Corridor project. That's very, very important. And when complete, the Euclid Corridor project will increase RTA's efficiency and allow us to keep fares lower longer.
RTA says 70% of its annual budget comes from a county sales tax and about 20% from the fare box. The ad hoc citizens group held a meeting last night in downtown Cleveland to hone its arguments against the rate hike. The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority will hold its first public hearing next Monday at 5:30 at the Helen Brown Center on Euclid Avenue. A decision by the RTA board is expected by mid-May. If approved, new fares would go into effect July 1. Karen Schaefer, 90.3.