The current recession has left many public and private organizations short of cash. That includes the Regional Transit Authority, more commonly known as the RTA. Transit officials have warned that they needed to make cuts in order to balance their books. Cost reductions include "putting the brakes" on several bus routes and raising some fares. The proposal is making some riders unhappy and others question whether they are needed. 90.3 WCPN's Mike West has more.
Mike West: RTA officials have scheduled 10 community meetings, which begin tonight, and a public hearing as part of their proposed 2002 budget. Media relations manager Jerry Masek says their $230 million spending plan only "adds up" if they run fewer buses and raise some fares.
Jerry Masek: RTA is seeking service modifications and fare increases in 2002 because money from the county-wide sales tax, we're in a recession and the revenues are down. We expect revenues are going to be down $17 million between 2001 and 2002. Obviously you can't put the same level of service on the street, if you have $17 million less in revenue.
MW: Right now it costs between a $1.25 and a $1.50 to ride most buses. But a community circulator is only 50 cents. There are 10 circulators, they're aimed at providing shorter trips within neighborhoods. Introduced in 1996, most have proved popular with local riders - all, except the "west shore circulator." It serves Bay Village and Rocky River and is targeted for elimination. But the only fare increase in the plan would hikes the circulator's 50 cent fare to a dollar. Even with the extra money, Masek says it's not enough to make the difference.
JM: No transit company in the United States operates out of the fare box completely. RTA is subsidized by 1% countywide sales tax. That generates 70% of our total revenue. The fair box generates 20%, and the other 10% comes from a variety of sources including advertising that you see on sides of busses.
MW: The budget proposal also calls for service to be cut back in some areas, which would mean longer waits between buses. The news of higher fares gets mixed reviews among passengers.
Bus Passengers: So far they alright, but if they go up I wouldn't take, I go buy me a car then. And I don't think they run like they should either. They always late and it's too cold to be waiting every 20 minutes for the damm bus.
I think we got one of the better ones that there is. I done lived places where you couldn't get anywhere on a Sunday and nowhere after 6 o'clock. It's okay.
MW: Have you heard about the fare increases...
Bus Passengers: It still doesn't matter cause in the 70s Pittsburgh was a dollar. It took us a long time to get to a $1.25. So I still think we have one of the best ones going.
MW: The new mayor of Cleveland, Jane Campbell, also has her eye on changes at fare boxes.
Jane Campbell: Public transportation is critical to this area and it's part of what makes Cleveland strong.
MW: RTA officials say they plan to met with her soon, and in the meantime are doing all they can to save money. That includes eliminating over 220 jobs by laying off 87 people and not filling job vacancies except for some top administrative positions. Hourly and management workers are also putting off raises. Mayor Campbell also warns administrators to make sure all the fat has been trimmed before service is cut.
JC: So I think that's it's very important that we try to make sure that the service that we have is really meeting the needs of where people are going and that as they do a review of service they make sure that were providing a service where people need to go. Community circulators have really made a difference particularly to seniors and I think the guidance I would give to RTA is: before you cut service or raise rates look at the administrative costs in your master office.
MW: Beverly Burtzlaff is the vice president of the RTA Board. She wants riders to know that if they can come up with better ways to cuts costs, the board is ready to listen, and that the proposals are not written in stone.
Beverly Burtzlaff: We approved the budget on a tentative basis, but that's all subject to change based on the out come of the hearings and we take very seriously the input of the public.
MW: RTA board members and administrators admit some passengers will be angry at the services cuts. But Burtzlaff says the transit services needs to take action now rather than wait until there is a budget shortfall that would mean even deeper cuts later.
BB: When you've got routes where there are only a couple of boardings an hour. It just doesn't make sense to continue them - no authority in the country would do that. Some things need to be done anyway, and this just a good time to do 'em and it does help save money. Hopefully the economy will rebound and our revenues will go back up.
MW: There is some good news for transit riders - the prices of an all-day pass would go from $4 to $3 under the plan.
Once the meetings and public hearings are complete, the RTA still must approve the changes or any adjustment that are made after public comment. The board includes four people appointed by the mayor of Cleveland, county has three representatives and suburban mayors also have a trio to look out for their interests. In Cleveland, Mike West, 90.3 WCPN News.