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Streetcar Rides Now Free After Council Overrides Mayor's Veto

Bill Rinehart

Cincinnati's streetcar is operating with passengers once again, and for now, it will be free to ride.

City Council voted Wednesday to override Mayor John Cranley's veto of those free rides.  

City Council approved an ordinance making the rides free Tuesday, and Cranley vetoed that measure immediately following a special session of council.

Cranley said it's about fairness.

"The idea that people who ride the bus have to pay a fare, but the streetcar for affluent members of Downtown is going to be free at taxpayers' expense is, I guess... trickle-down economics would be a way to describe it," Cranley said. "And it's taking taxpayer money from the many to give it to the rarified few."

Council Member Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney rejected that argument.

"The streetcar is for everybody," Kearney said. "The streetcar can take riders from the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the parks Downtown, to Fountain Square, to Washington Park, to Findlay Market, places that all of us, no matter what race or economic level, all of us frequent, these places belong to everybody."

Streetcar rides will be free for the next two months. Council will need to approve additional legislation, including to changes to the city's municipal code, to make that permanent.

Streetcar service resumed Wednesday morning after being shutdown in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Council did not override a mayoral veto from August that would have used $1.5 million of tax increment financing money from Downtown and Over-the-Rhine to help pay for streetcar operations.

Instead, $1.5 million from the general fund will be used for funding, and that replaces money council approved in June using city transit income tax money.

Cranley wanted to spend $3 million to maintain the streetcars and infrastructure with no passenger service until at least July 2021.

But a council majority voted to spend about $5 million to operate the system with passengers right away.

Passenger service was supposed to begin in July but was delayed until now because of the mayoral vetoes and City Council's reduced meeting schedule during the summer.

Jay Hanselman brings more than 10 years experience as a news anchor and reporter to 91.7 WVXU. He came to WVXU from WNKU, where he hosted the local broadcast of All Things Considered. Hanselman has been recognized for his reporting by the Kentucky AP Broadcasters Association, the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and the Ohio AP Broadcasters.