During the first few months of 2008 while I served as legislative director for a Cincinnati councilman, Council was mending after heated budget negotiations.

In the spring, members agreed to stop talking about METRO (SORTA) reform and start to protect the city's interest and create a fair, balanced and more successful regional transportation system.

The result was one of the first motions supported by all nine members of council.

The overall goals were to investigate the creation of a Greater Cincinnati Transit Authority, and offer incentives and reward jurisdictions if they contribute to the funding of the reformed regional system. In addition, Council wanted to ensure that neighboring counties would be formally included in the governing structure.

Council's main concern was that the funding and governing structure was out of balance. Three years later, it's still out of balance.

The city spends an "historic and unmatched financial commitment" at .3 percent of the earning tax annually to support METRO. The earnings tax is paid by everyone living or working in the city.

Cincinnati's Charter requires this .3 percent be allocated to transportation, but interestingly it's not limited to bus transportation.

The motion was sent to the city manager for a report on reforming the governing model of Queen City Metro via SORTA. City Manager Milton Dohoney reported that Council could create an alternative authority or create an agency of the city to operate the system. The report stated the state would allow the city to receive federal transportation grants, all assets would be transferred to the city, and labor and pension rights of employees would be preserved.

This year, Cincinnati supports METRO's operations based on the 1973 city/SORTA agreement, paying $40 million of the $85.5 million total budget. Unfortunately, Hamilton County hasn't supported METRO since 2008.

17 MILLION RIDES

METRO provides 17 million rides to the people who live and work throughout the region.

The city is the only municipality in the county to contribute to the local government portion of METRO's operating budget.

Meanwhile, METRO serves Hamilton, Butler, Clermont and Warren counties, in addition to smaller villages and municipalities. Only 13 of 135 local communities are not served by bus transportation. Butler and Clermont have service contracts with METRO but only pay into its operating budget via federal pass-through funds.

Because of the census numbers, Warren does not receive federal funding to support METRO.

Hopefully, with the completed census of 2010, Warren County's growth will justify them receiving funding to pass along.

The time has come for regional leaders to step up and create a balanced and comprehensive governing and funding model to support METRO's operation.

TIME FOR BALANCE

The region is benefiting greatly from the city's contribution. METRO is a successful economic development engine, which allows people to travel inside the city and throughout the suburbs for jobs, errands and entertainment.

I urge our leaders, public and private, to work together to bring the people of the region a reformed and fairly funded system. A broadly represented board to oversee the operation of METRO is critical as well.

Strong public transportation benefits the entire region. You don't have to look any further than the price of gas, the need for reasonable and reliable ways for folks to get to work, and the attraction of a truly green alternative. So, take a seat, open your laptop, and let government leaders know that fair funding and oversight is a priority.
 
Shawn Baker is a Realtor® and local activist proudly residing in Cincinnati's downtown basin. He is President of CincyPAC and is a board member of the Charter Committee of Cincinnati. He has worked for several Cincinnati Councilmembers and non-profit organizations.