Cincinnati Council Approves First Part Of Streetcar Divorce

Sep 18, 2019

Cincinnati City Council has approved an ordinance spending $536,000 to fund "expenditures for the transition of management of the streetcar from SORTA to the city."

That money will come from the streetcar operations fund.

The city and the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority are working to have the city managing streetcar operations by Jan. 1. SORTA has been the operator since passenger service began in September 2016.

"The city would assume full operational and management control of the streetcar system, including budget management and day-to-day operations so that SORTA is no longer the streetcar operator," says a city memo describing the process.
 
The funding is to assist with that transition plan, and to pay for positions the city will need to assume the operations work.

Under the plan, the city would assume oversight of the Transdev contract. That company is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the streetcar.

Some council members have been directing city administrators to "establish direct city management of the Cincinnati Bell Connector."

The SORTA Board is expected later this month to formally approve placing a sales tax increase on next year's ballot to fund Metro bus operations and pay for infrastructure repairs along bus routes.

Some believe there are Hamilton County voters who will not support a SORTA levy if the agency is still operating the streetcar system.

"I think it is a necessary step to build a transportation system for this whole county that will address long needed transportation/infrastructure needs like fixing Western Hills Viaduct and dramatically expanding bus service that will help people get to and from their jobs," said Mayor John Cranley.

But Council Member Chris Seelbach voted against the ordinance.

"We're only doing it because there's an assumption that in order to pass a bus levy, that the streetcar cannot be under SORTA because voters will not vote for a levy that somehow is connected to the streetcar which is unpopular," Seelbach said. "I reject that."

Seelbach also said no one has given him any reason to believe the city can do a better job operating the streetcar than SORTA.

The city is still deciding whether staff members will be responsible for streetcar operations, or if that task will be handed to a non-profit board.  The city is expected to hire a consultant to make recommendations so that whatever plan is adopted will comply with Federal Transit Administration guidelines.