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SORTA Will Select Streetcar Operating Plan After Council Fails To Decide

Provided/City of Cincinnati

Cincinnati Council could not agree Wednesday on an approach to operate the city's streetcar system.  So now the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority will likely make the selection.  

There are two options:  "turn-key" where a private contractor manages and hires the streetcar operators, or a "management" option with a contractor providing oversight while current union SORTA employees would operate the system.  Those workers are part of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 627.  

“Under the terms of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority’s streetcar operating and maintenance contract with the city and consistent with Federal procurement requirements, the SORTA Board will award a contract as soon as possible, based on the streetcar budget provided by the City of Cincinnati and consistent with Federal Transit Administration guidelines,” said SORTA Board Chairman Jason Dunn in a written statement.

Dunn said he had not yet determined if the contract award will occur at the July 21 SORTA Board meeting or at a special meeting.

City Council’s Major Transportation Committee approved the “management” option during a meeting Wednesday morning.  But the full Council rejected it in the afternoon.  

Council Member Chris Seelbach supported the management option, but was concerned about language in the ordinance that could restrict city funding.

“I’m not willing to limit the amount of money that it may take to fill in the gap the first several years to make sure that not only ATU and SORTA are running the streetcar, but that it’s run normal hours and days,” Seelbach said.

Seelbach successfully amended the ordinance during the committee session to remove the language he objected too.  

The full Council also unanimously rejected a plan Mayor John Cranley proposed for that management option.  Cranley also supports that approach, but he said some on Council want to give a blank check to streetcar operations.

“We should stand with ATU and if it means the frequency is reduced slightly because projections come up a little short, that is not the end of the world,” Cranley said.  “I think that operation plan should be re-examined anyway.”

An operating approach must be selected soon because employees must be ready to accept the first streetcar when it's delivered in the fall.

Either option could have a funding deficit in the next couple of years because of the way the city setup it operation funding plan.  That likely will lead to more Council debate on how to close the gap.