Lake County, OH – Laketran, along with many other public transportation agencies from around the state, met in Columbus earlier this month to ensure more state dollars are allocated for public transportation.
Between 2002 and 2015 state funding for transit has declined from $43 million to $7 million.
Meetings were held with Ohio Senate Minority Leader, Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights, Senator John Eklund, R-Munson Township, and State Representatives John Rogers, D-Mentor-on-the-Lake, and legislative aide for Ron Young, R-Leroy Township.
“We are finally finding a voice among the legislature and decision makers in Columbus,” shared Julia Schick, director of communications for Laketran. “Last year we were bringing the ODOT’s Statewide Transit Needs Study to the attention of the elected officials and this year they were reciting it.”
Schick believes stakeholder engagement has played an important role in gaining the attention of the legislature. Joining Laketran staff in Columbus was Lifeline CEO, Carrie Dotson; Bob Fratino, Lake County Board of DD’s Director of Community Employment Services; Frank Weglarz, volunteer advocate for Lake County Council on Aging, and John Murphy, chairman of Laketran’s union UAW Local 1834. Spence Kline, CEO of Beacon Health, sent along a letter of support for Laketran.
“Instead of the conversation being about getting people from point A to point B, our stakeholders can speak about the opportunity and impact those trips have on the lives of our residents here in Lake County,” Schick explained. “It is important that our elected officials hear success stories of recovery, job retention, and improved mental and physical health because of access to public transportation.”
The larger challenge ahead is Laketran, along with all 88 counties and eight transit systems, stands to lose $200 million effective July 1 due to a change in federal regulation.
Ohio is projected to lose millions of dollars in sales tax revenue from Medicaid Managed Care Organizations (MCOs) and while the state has found a means to recover the state’s loss, Laketran will be without $417,800 annually starting in 2019. A potential “transitional aid” will be given in 2018, but still leaves Laketran with a $361,830 hole to fill. Laketran’s local sales tax levy makes up 62 percent, of Laketran’s operating budget.
Also effective July 1, Governor Kasich’s proposed state biennium budget, HB 49, is requesting a $1 million increase for public transportation, from $7.5M to $8.5M from general revenue funds, for 61 statewide transit agencies. The same proposed increase was cut from the 2016-2017 budget. Laketran will continue to advocate for it to remain in the final budget as it is approved by the House and Senate.
A small victory for transit in the state’s transportation budget was a $10 million increase in flexed federal funds that will help purchase vehicles and infrastructure needed to expand or meet current, unmet demand, however ODOT’s 2015 Transit Needs Study says transit needs $192.4 million to adequately fund statewide capital needs.
“We’re are very grateful to our stakeholders for their support in our advocacy efforts. Together, we’re finding our elected officials recognize the need and economic benefit of having an accessible transit system.” said Brian Falkowski, board president at Laketran. “The harder part of that equation is the solution, but the small strides are hopeful and show we’re moving in the right direction.”
In efforts to save money, Laketran’s board of trustees recently voted to join NEORide, a counsel of governments formed to identify ways Ohio transit authorities can streamline services, operations, and procurements into an efficient cooperative model.
“NEORide has also discussed the possibility of creating a regional fare payment system for
smart phones, commonly called mobile ticketing,” explained Ben Capelle, deputy general manager of Laketran. “While the technology exists, the cost of the project was not desirable for Laketran alone to pursue, but may be affordable by creating a regional fare payment system.