Editorial: Increase in State Funding for Public Transit Operations Important to Ohio’s Future

The News-Herald.com

If there’s strength in numbers, as the old saying goes, then it’s clear that transit agencies in the state are putting more muscle behind the push for Ohio lawmakers to increase public transit funding.

In fact, representatives from 61 transit agencies across the state recently participated in the Ohio Public Transit Association’s Legislative Day held at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus.

“This is the first time this many transit systems from all over Ohio met in the state capitol to discuss with their respective legislators the need for increased public transit funding,” Laketran General Manager Ray Jurkowski said.

We hope that state lawmakers came away from the event with a greater awareness of the importance of public transit in Ohio and why more state dollars must be allocated in the future to continue serving people who rely on agencies like Laketran for transportation to jobs, college, medical appointments and shopping.

Transit systems are seeking to drive home a message about the importance of additional state funding at a time when Ohio has slashed its investment in public transportation from $44 million a year in 2000 to $7.3 million — a dramatic 83 percent reduction.

“Even though Ohio ranks 14th in U.S. transit ridership, Ohio’s investment in public transportation ranks 38th among all states, just ahead of Mississippi,” he said. “Neighboring states like Pennsylvania, Illinois and Michigan invest an average of $50 per capita in public transportation while Ohio invests just 63 cents.”

Ohio’s budget itself also lacks a dedicated source of funding for public transportation.

“While the primary source of funding for public transit at the federal level and in many states is the gasoline tax, the Ohio Constitution prohibits spending gasoline tax revenue on anything other than highway related projects,” Jurkowski said. “Consequently, transit systems in Ohio are dependent upon the Ohio General Assembly appropriating money from general revenue funds for public transportation.”

Ultimately, Laketran would like the state to establish a dedicated funding source that includes providing operating assistance to expand transportation service to underserved areas of Lake County, Jurkowski said.

The appeals by transit agencies for additional state funding are bolstered by a recent statewide transit study performed by the Ohio Department of Transportation.

According to the study, $273 million in funding is needed to bring Ohio’s transit fleet to a state of good repair; an additional $192 million is needed to purchase vehicles and infrastructure necessary to expand transit service to meet current, unmet demand; and $97 million in operating assistance is needed to meet the current, unmet demand of 37.5 million additional transit trips.

While transit officials came to the Ohio Public Transit Association’s Legislative Day armed with plenty of facts and figures, Laketran also brought along a few community leaders who expressed their support.

Mentor City Councilman John Krueger and Gary Robinson, vice president of community and business affairs for Lake Health, traveled to Columbus with Jurkowski to meet with Sen. John Eklund, R-Munson Township, and state Reps. John Rogers, D-Mentor-on-the-Lake, and Ron Young, R-Leroy Township.

Krueger said one of the areas underserved by public transit in Lake County is Mentor Headlands, an area of 4,000 residents.

“There are only a few businesses in the Headlands with only two ways in and out of the area,” Krueger said. “We are certainly in need of additional routes, it would behoove us all. It’s a priority for me. What the state currently provides ($7.3 million) is ridiculous.”

Krueger said he also would like to see accessible routes from the Headlands to the Great Lakes Mall in Mentor and Lakeland Community College in Kirtland.

“This has really opened my eyes,” he said. “Mentor has the sixth largest retail district in the state. We need more public transportation for our citizens.”

While all transit systems represented at the event serve geographic areas with different needs, we hope that legislators who participated reached the same conclusion: Public transit is important to Ohio’s future and deserves a larger share of state funding.

That message hopefully was delivered louder and clearer than ever, thanks to the legion of transit officials and supporters who rolled into Columbus for the Ohio Public Transit Association Legislative Day.