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SORTA Awards Cincinnati Streetcar Operating Contract

Provided/City of Cincinnati

Months of debate about who will operate the Cincinnati streetcar system was settled in less than 15 minutes Monday.  The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) Board voted to award a turn-key contract to Illinois-based Transdev.  

That company will manage the system and hire its own private operators.

Michael Setzer with Transdev was asked about the love it or hate it attitude toward the streetcar.  Setzer said that is not uncommon.

“Almost every rail project that I’ve ever been associated with starts out in controversy and ends up being a tremendous community asset that almost everybody embraces,” Setzer said.  “I think that will be what will happen here too.”

The alternate plan was for a "management" approach where current transit union workers would operate the streetcars.  

The different plans led to months of debate and Cincinnati city council not being able to pick a plan.  That left the final decision to SORTA.  

John Claflin will be coming to Cincinnati from New Mexico to manage the streetcar system for Transdev.   He was asked about the union representation.

“Most of our operations are unionized,” Claflin said.  “I was a member of ATU for many years.  I’ve worked with the ATU in Portland, Denver and Houston.  We’re looking forward to working with them on the project.”

Credit Jay Hanselman / WVXU

The local Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) would have to opportunity to organize the streetcar operators who will work for Transdev.  But ATU President Troy Miller said there would still be a difference.

“Employees in the big bus are receiving a state retirement and employees at the streetcar will be a different grade, and I don’t think it’s fair,” Miller said.

SORTA also released all the documents it used to make its decision.  Five companies submitted ten proposals for operating the streetcar.  

Transdev will be paid $1.1 million between now and when the system begins operating in September 2016.  During the first year of passenger service, the company will get about $3.3 million.  City council has appropriated $4.2 million for the first year of streetcar operations.

SORTA Board Chairman Jason Dunn said Transdev is a highly respected transportation management firm operating transit and rail system in the U.S. and around the world, including the streetcar system in New Orleans.

“The procurement process was rigorous, thorough, and conducted with the highest level of integrity,” Dunn said in a written statment.  “I would like to commend the SORTA and City representatives on a job well done. The contract is within the budget established by the City and meets the service levels in the Federal grantapplications.”

Transdev will be getting its personnel together locally so it will be ready to accept the city's first streetcar sometime this fall.  Passenger service is scheduled to begin in September 2016.