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CPS, Metro say they are interested in working together, but problems persist

Michael Keating

Cincinnati Public Schools says it still wants to do business with the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, but it's unsure if the company is interested in keeping up the decades-long working relationship.

"Whatever the future is, we must get our children and our teenagers to school and back in a reasonable time, a safe way," CPS Board Member Eve Bolton said during a meeting Monday night. "And we kind of thought that was Metro's priority, as well, after all these years."

In a letter to Interim Superintendent Tianay Amat, SORTA CEO and General Manager Darryl Haley said the company won't exercise contract option years after June 20, 2022.

The letter says CPS has solicited bids for chartered bus services, including Metro, but it cannot legally compete with private charter companies. While that doesn't necessarily spell out the end of the working relationship between CPS and SORTA, the transit authority said in a statement, "...it causes us to believe the district’s transportation needs have extended beyond what Metro – as a federally funded transportation agency – is legally authorized to provide."

Metro's Vice President of External Affairs Brandy Jones said last week participating in the district's request for proposals would violate a federal regulation that prevents agencies receiving federal subsidies from unfairly competing against private bus companies.

"If we were to bid on this, we would lose the money that we receive from the federal government, and we rely on federal funds to purchase new buses, to build things like transit centers and ultimately do all of the things that a system would do to provide service to all our residents in Hamilton County, and so what CPS is asking us to do is illegal," Jones told WVXU.

On Tuesday, Jones sent WVXU a statement saying Metro is "pleased to hear board members are interested in continuing to work with Metro to develop a transportation solution that best serves Cincinnati Public Schools within the service parameters we can provide."

She continued, "While this is in contrast to what the district previously indicated by putting its transportation services out to the market for bid – a process district leaders knew would explicitly exclude Metro from participating – we look forward to continued dialogue with CPS about how we can best serve their students after this school year. As we have stated on multiple occasions, including last week’s communications, Metro is proud of the role we play in transporting students to and from school across all Hamilton County districts, including CPS, and we're eager to continue those discussions.

Bolton, meanwhile, said Monday other parts of SORTA's letter do not reflect data the district has. For instance, SORTA says ridership is back up to pre-pandemic levels with 9,000 students riding daily.

"I was surprised that they are claiming that we are using Metro/SORTA at the level of pre-COVID and our data doesn't necessarily indicate that," she says.

Bolton says the district has made a public records request to see that data being referenced.

She went on to say the letter, which was posted on Twitter, is "public posturing" and she wants the community to know the district is "very interested to re-envision the future partnership with Metro and are concerned that maybe they're not."

Updated: November 23, 2021 at 2:56 PM EST
This article has been updated to include Metro's response to comments made at Monday's meeting.
Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.