Hamilton County voters will have a chance to weigh in on the future of public transportation and infrastructure in March.
The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) Board of Trustees approved a resolution that asks voters for a 0.8% sales tax levy to fund its "Reinventing Metro" plan and infrastructure improvements. Reinventing Metro includes new bus routes, more frequent stops and 24-hour service on six major corridors along with other expansions.
"We need a bus service that reliably and efficiently gets people to work on time and serves their needs," Better Bus Coalition Founder Cameron Hardy says.
His organization along with city and county officials, business and community leaders say they're in support of the issue.
Hardy says he became interested in transit advocacy three years ago. "I was on a bus and it broke down," he says. "It was on a Saturday night. I was leaving my dead-end security job at the time and the bus broke down in the middle of Main Street." He says hearing a bus full of riders complain about how this disrupted their day outraged him.
SORTA currently gets a 0.3% City of Cincinnati earnings tax. If Hamilton County voters pass the permanent sales tax levy in 2020, it could eliminate that portion of the city's earnings tax. The agency has said relying on earnings tax - which is the biggest part of its budget - isn’t reliable. Cincinnati voters will decide in November if they want to remove the transit portion of the earnings tax if the countywide sales tax levy is approved next year.
Ohio law allows a regional transit authority like SORTA to request sales tax in increments of 0.10% or 0.25% (not to exceed 1.5%).
If changes aren't made, Metro says it faces a $165 million projected deficit over the next 10 years.
Current SORTA board chair Kreg Keesee credited people like former board chair Jason Dunn for removing barriers for the resolution to pass Monday night.
"A lot of discussions were, is this for poor people?" Dunn says. "Is transportation needed for people that live outside of the city? Is it a race factor?" He says after they showed proof to remove misconceptions, people began to understand the impact it had on everyone no matter their race or socioeconomic status.
SORTA board member Allan Freeman cast the only dissenting vote on the resolution. He told WVXU that he would've preferred the vote be held after SORTA and the streetcar separation is final.
According to our news partner WCPO, voters have rejected four previous proposals to fund public transit with a sales tax, most recently in 2002.