University School - Hunting Valley
Instructor: Scott Boehnen
New Beginnings for Public Transit in Cleveland
New Beginnings for Public Transit in Cleveland
On October 24, 2020, hundreds of Clevelanders rallied downtown advocating for public transit funding. Many RTA trains are years beyond their life expectancy and require weekly maintenance. Just a few days prior to the rally, a Red Line RTA train was decoupled, making the line less efficient and reliable for riders (Indriolo). Nighttime and weekend services, which require long-term investments, are not provided in Cleveland, leaving many seniors and low-income residents who don't own cars unable to get to where they need to be during those hours (Indriolo). A Federal Reserve study found that 85% of the regional workforce could not access half of the top 10 employment centers in Cleveland if they relied on public transit. On top of that, less than a third (31%) of all jobs in Northeast Ohio can be accessed by public transit in 90 minutes or less (Barkley & Gomes-Pereira). These 90-minute commutes to work are the reality for many Clevelanders who do not have the means to afford their own vehicle. Not only does a subpar public transit system affect people from getting to work, but it also affects people getting around Cleveland that rely on it as their primary form of transportation. From residents to commuters and from tourists to locals, people simply cannot take advantage of the public transportation system in Cleveland due to it lacking in coverage and convenience. Cleveland's underdeveloped public transit system is largely underfunded and therefore cannot be updated or maintained, which discourages people from using it. Organizations like ConnectWorkS and Share Mobility are trying to solve these issues by creating new fully funded programs to expand the public transit system to more people in Cleveland.
Cleveland's miserable commutes and low usage of public transportation stem from the inability to install and maintain amenities especially sheltered bus stops. Installing and maintaining shelters at bus stops are expensive and require a policy by the transit authorities to decide whether or not they can be built. The policy is primarily based on the number of people, where 50 or more people are required daily to use the stop, or the physical limitations of the location, which currently only shelters 1,000 out of 5,500 bus stops in Cleveland (Johnson). Putting up sheltered bus stops is an investment, and requires time and money. Most bus stops can range from $5,000 to $10,000, which can add up quickly when trying to install multiple shelters (Johnson). Northeast Ohio experiences a vast array of weather in the four seasons, ranging from freezing winters to blazing summers. Chris Martin, a Cleveland resident, relies on the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) to get around Cleveland. Martin does not own a car, so daily commutes may take time standing at unsheltered bus stops waiting for the RTA in unpredictable weather. He states, "The fact that there is no shelter at a bus stop is a deterrent to people wanting to ride the bus. From the sun beating down on you on a hot summer day to a bitterly cold winter morning with snow blowing in the wind, shelter is absolutely crucial for the public transit riding experience" (Martin quoted in Johnson). Some people, like Martin, who rely on the RTA for transportation, need shelter at bus stops to protect them from unpredictable weather in Cleveland. Without implementing shelters, their daily commutes can become miserable, and prevent them from getting to where they need to be.
Cleveland's out-of-date and underdeveloped public transit system arises from the lack of funding that goes into it. Public transportation funding is a mere 2.56% of highway spending in Ohio (Vandenberge). Many public transit systems are old and unreliable, and deter people from riding them, for instance, "Chris Stocking, a near West Side resident and member of Clevelanders for Public Transit (CPT) used to take the Red Line train to get to his workplace on the East Side. But he's stopped relying on it because of too many delays and breakdowns. From what he's witnessed, the railcars are far beyond their useful life, and often need maintenance" (Morris, "Stuck in Cleveland"). Cleveland's public transit is outdated and doesn't receive maintenance very often, causing fewer people to want to use public transportation. Fewer people using public transit gives the state fewer reasons to fund public transportation. If there is no funding that goes into public transit, it just becomes worse and worse. Fewer routes are being developed, leaving people stranded and unable to get to work. Lynn Nilgess lives on the West Side, and faces many difficulties getting to work efficiently: "She can either use the bus, with two transfers, or walk 15-20 minutes to a Red Line station. Either way, it takes about an hour for her to get to work and another hour to get home" (Morris, "Stuck in Cleveland"). 16.4% of the population in Cleveland does not have a transit stop within ¼ of a mile and 41.6% of the population in Cuyahoga County, which leaves many people unable to use public transportation to get directly to work (Cuyahoga County Data Book). They either have to find a way to get to work by themselves or walk to the closest bus stop. The severe underfunding of Cleveland's public transit system leaves it underdeveloped, creating miserable lives for people like Nilgess, but all hope is not lost.
Many people who use public transit have issues getting from the end of the RTA route to their work. This issue can be solved by creating transit routes closer to job centers or extending already existing transit routes. ConnectWorkS is a program through the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) that serves as a future effort to get people to job sites at industrial centers through new public transit routes (Morris, "How NE Ohio Communities"). One part of their project is a partnership with the village of Mayfield to provide a new bus route connecting the end of the #7A RTA bus line to a new loop which will serve 12,000 employees who work at major employment centers in the area, including the Progressive Insurance campus (Morris, "How NE Ohio Communities"). This bus stop will circulate frequently and at most require a three-minute walk to the job sites. As mentioned before, funding is a large problem for public transit; however, the village of Mayfield and the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority are putting together $180,000 toward the project (Morris, "How NE Ohio Communities"). This policy can extend to other cities in the Greater Cleveland Area where they can split the funds needed for public transit with the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority. These funds will give the system enough money to be sustainable and well-maintained, creating a new public transportation system that eliminates financial and economic problems.
The other part of ConnectWorkS works with Share Mobility, a rideshare service, to provide connections from the end of public transit routes to workplaces in Solon and Bedford Heights. Employees will use these services by scheduling a ride via an app or website, and then the company's software will send drivers on hyper-efficient routes to take one or more employees to their destination (Mcdonnell). Maribeth Feke, director of programming and planning for the GCRTA, states, "Between the two pilots of ConnectWorkS, the GCRTA will be hitting a third of the high job centers in the county. The point is to address what some advocates call the first- or last-mile issue, where workers can get close to work through public transit, but still face a long walk after they get off the bus or train" (Feke quoted in Morris, "How NE Ohio Communities"). The first and last-mile issue refers to the large population of people who use public transit that doesn't get them close enough to their work. ConnectWorkS and Share Mobility are working to solve this problem through their services. These projects are big steps forward in providing efficiency and convenience to a large population in the Greater Cleveland Area. This is so helpful because the suburbs of Cleveland like Solon, for example, only have 3.2% of people with a bus stop within a ¼ of a mile, compared to Cleveland's 82.3% (Cuyahoga County Data Book). These transportation problems are not just in the city, but also in the suburbs. This has tried to have been solved before with Lyft or uber, but that can become costly. Share Mobility aims to have totally free rides which are backed up by $300,000 in funding from the RTA over 18 months (Mcdonnell). A similar service is already in place by Share Mobility in Dublin, Ohio, where over 10,000 rides have been provided (Mcdonnell).
Adding new bus stop shelters can encourage riders to use public transit regardless of the weather. As previously mentioned, installing bus stop shelters requires transit authorities to follow a policy based on the usage of that bus stop. This limits the number of bus stops that can be added around the city; however, this does not mean that bus stops with lower usage cannot get shelters. Business owners, private property owners, and even cities can volunteer to fund bus stop shelters. These funds go to the maintenance, cleaning, and repairs of the bus stop which can cost $10,000 to $22,000 (Johnson). With such a high cost of maintenance, donations and partnerships are important to improving the overall quality of the system. Instead of waiting outside at unsheltered bus stops, riders can download transit apps such as the Transit with EZfare app for the Greater Cleveland RTA and the Akron Metro RTA (Johnson). These apps can help riders know when the RTA will arrive and can help them better prepare. All of this circles back to itself as adding more bus shelters will encourage more riders to use public transportation, which will ultimately lead to more bus stops meeting the requirements of installing shelters.
The lack of funding that goes into Cleveland's public transit system causes it to become underdeveloped and in need of constant maintenance. This denies many citizens in Cleveland easy access to work and transportation in general, making them responsible for providing transportation for themselves. ConnectWorkS and Share Mobility are organizations trying to expand public transportation to reach more people in Cleveland through fully funded programs. These programs aim to get people to and from public transit sites, and are a step in the right direction to improve the public transit in Cleveland, but how can anyone make an immediate impact? First of all, donations to these organizations and the GCRTA are extremely helpful as maintaining transportation is very costly. The RTA's adopt a shelter system that can be used by everyone, in which people care for their community by adopting and taking care of a shelter for a five-year period. Even with regular cleanings of bus stops, it can still be difficult to keep them in optimal condition. Adopters' responsibilities are to remove debris, plant flowers, and alert the GCRTA if necessary. All of these efforts to improve public transportation really do make a difference, as many people rely on public transportation in their daily lives, and updating and maintaining it benefits them greatly.