A total of 61 transit agencies across Ohio are collaborating to ensure more state transportation dollars are allocated for public transit operations in future years.
That was one of the primary issues discussed with members of the Ohio General Assembly at the recent Ohio Public Transit Association’s Legislative Day held at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, said Laketran General Manager Ray Jurkowski at Laketran’s Board of Trustees meeting April 25.
“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,” Jurkowski said.
Mentor City Councilman John Krueger and Gary Robinson, vice president of community and business affairs for Lake Health, also 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.
Jurkowski said 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.”
Jurkowski added that unlike many other states, Ohio does not have 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,” he 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.
Councilman Krueger said one of the underserved areas 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.”
A recent statewide transit need study completed by the Ohio Department of Transportation documents the case for increased public transit funding.
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.
An additional $562.1 million in annual funding will be needed to meet future demand of 140.2 million additional trips by 2025.
Though the study was completed in early 2015, nothing has been done by the Ohio General Assembly, and there are no plans being developed to rectify the growing problem, Jurkowski said.
“While ODOT published the study, it was important for our elected state officials to directly hear about the need for state funding to access existing jobs, state-of-the-art health care, higher education and training in Lake County,” he said. “They are empathetic toward our plight. Armed with specific examples, hopefully our state representatives can share similar stories with their legislative colleagues and develop the dedicated source of funding to fix the public transit crisis in Ohio.
“We are very grateful to our stakeholders from TriPoint and the Mentor Headlands for talking to our state officials about the growing needs for more transit service in Lake County,” he said. “We’re also grateful to the Alliance for Working Together Foundation for sending a letter of support. All in all, it was a good investment of our time.”