Transit Advocates Push RTA To Ask Voters For Tax Levy

Volunteers for the advocacy group Clevelanders for Public Transit rallied in Public Square in downtown Cleveland Monday, renewing their call for a ballot measure to fund the RTA. [Clevelanders for Public Transit]
Volunteers for the advocacy group Clevelanders for Public Transit rallied in Public Square in downtown Cleveland Monday, renewing their call for a ballot measure to fund the RTA. [Clevelanders for Public Transit]
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Time is running out for public transit advocates hoping to see a tax levy to support the region's ailing transit system on this November's election ballot. 

For months, the volunteer-run group Clevelanders for Public Transit (CPT) has been lobbying the RTA Board to give the tax levy a chance. Monday, the group held a rally in Public Square, near the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority's downtown headquarters, to call attention to the issue.

By law, the RTA Board has until August 8 to file a request with the county's board of elections in order to have a chance of getting the measure in front of voters this Election Day, November 6.

Akshai Singh, an organizer for CPT, said the county needs a local solution to make up for the roughly $20 million per year the RTA lost after the state stopped collecting taxes on Medicaid managed care organizations last year.

“It would just be a massive blow, not just to ridership, but economic prospects going forward if we don't act,” Singh said. “What we’re trying to say to the community at large is, ‘This is a major issue.’”

Singh said that CPT would like to see a new property tax that they estimate would raise about $60 million per year for the RTA.

“We can't only be focused on if the state's going to come through when they've been failing us so long,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the RTA, however, said a ballot measure this year would be premature because the agency and its board haven't worked out the details of a possible tax levy.

Likewise, Singh said he knows it's a long shot. However, he hopes the rally will spur transit officials to act with more urgency, especially since the current RTA head, Joe Calabrese is expected to retire in 2020. 

Historically, the RTA's budget has mostly come from a countywide sales tax. In 2016, that tax accounted for more than $218 millionor about 70 percentof the agency's operating funds, according to the RTA.

However, the agency's revenue has been under pressure from declining state funds and declining ridership. Earlier this year, facing a shrinking budget, the RTA reduced service to 15 train and bus routes, further adding to what CPT is calling the transit authority's "death spiral."

As of the publishing of this article, the President of the RTA Board, Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough, did not return a request for comment. 

In June, the RTA Board commissioned a study on the economic impact of the RTA system. At the time, RTA CEO Calabrese said that any talk of a new tax is “a ways off,” and should wait until after the study is complete. Full results from that study won't be available until March 2019. 

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