Aging bus fleet means even higher costs for struggling Cincinnati Metro

The transit system is facing a budget gap in 2018

CINCINNATI -- Nearly a third of Cincinnati Metro's buses are too old, and that's making them even more costly to maintain.

That was part of Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority CEO and General Manager Dwight Ferrell's message to the agency's board during a meeting Tuesday morning.

SORTA owns and oversees the bus transit system that serves primarily Hamilton County. A handful of express routes reach out into Butler, Clermont and Warren counties.

Contributing to Metro's ongoing budget woes, Ferrell told the board that 101 of the fleet's 357 buses are more than 12 years old, which is the Federal Transit Administration's recommended "useful life span."

The oldest bus in the fleet is 16 years old.

The result? More than 100 vehicles taking up more of Metro's limited resources, according to Brandy Jones, a spokesperson for SORTA. It also means less convenient rides for bus users.

"That means that these buses cost more to maintain," Jones said. "There are going to be more breakdowns and mechanical issues, which impacts our service.

"All things that discourage people from riding the bus."

Cameron Hardy calls the state of Metro's fleet a "travesty." Hardy is a daily bus commuter and heads up the regional bus advocacy group, the Better Bus Coalition.

"We have a serious fleet problem in the city of Cincinnati," Hardy told WCPO. "This shows us on a bigger scale that we need a new funding mechanism for how we fund Metro."

With Metro's current funding model, the ailing bus system is staring down the barrel of a looming $30 million deficit in 2018. The SORTA board has committed to pushing for a county-wide ballot measure that would create a new sales tax levy to generate funding for sustaining and potentially expanding bus service.

Part of the funding raised by the new sales tax would go toward purchasing new buses, Jones said. 

"(Metro is) going to continue to have do more with less," Hardy said. "It's been happening for as long as I can remember, but now that it's worse, people are starting to notice.

"This affects people."

Pat LaFleur reports on transportation and mobility for WCPO. Connect with him on Twitter (@pat_laFleur) and on Facebook.

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