People in Greater Cincinnati want better transit but less willing to pay more for it, survey finds

SORTA considers sales tax initiative

CINCINNATI -- An overwhelming majority of people in Greater Cincinnati want better public transportation. But far fewer are willing to pay more for it.

A survey, released Tuesday from the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, shows the region's largest public transit system faces hurdles to convince voters to approve a possible tax hike to boost service.

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The chamber's survey included 800 people from southwest Ohio, Northern Kentucky and southeast Indiana.

It found:

  • 71 percent of survey respondents believe expanding public transit will strengthen our regional economy and directly create jobs.
  • Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed see a benefit to public transportation and feel the current transportation system is outdated.
  • 68 percent of respondents said they agree that our community would benefit from an expanded and improved public transportation system.

An overwhelming majority of voters -- 94 percent -- said they believe reliable bus service is important to senior citizens and people with disabilities. A large majority, 84 percent, also said they believe it's important to expand bus service where new jobs are located.

The survey found strong support isn't limited to public transit riders, either:

  • 67 percent of respondents said they benefit from bus services, even if they don’t ride them personally.
  • 74 percent said they have no choice but to drive as much as they do, with more than half of those saying they would like to spend less time in their car.
  • 66 percent said there is great or some need for more money to increase the use of alternatives to driving, such as buses, rail, walking and biking.

Still, only a slim majority of Hamilton County voters are willing to pay an extra half-percent sales tax hike to fund improvements to the Metro bus system.

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, which operates Metro buses, faces an approximately $3 million shortfall in 2018, accumulating to more than a $20 million projected deficit over the next five years, according to their estimates.

SORTA is primarily funded through Cincinnati's earnings tax. Of Ohio's major metropolitan areas, Greater Cincinnati stands alone in not using a sales tax levy to fund bus transit service.

The agency's board voted unanimously last month to explore placing a sales tax initiative on the ballot. The details of how much of a sales tax increase that would entail remain in the air.

The options are:

Half-cent increase: SORTA says this option would not succeed in covering the current budget gap, but would help increase service

Three-fourths-cent increase: Would close budget gap, increase service by 22 percent

One-cent increase: Would close budget gap, increase service by 55 percent

Voters around the region are split on the idea of increasing taxes for a new, better transit system, the chamber found.

Those surveyed voted in the November 2016 election. The survey, conducted May 20-24, included voters from Hamilton, Butler, Clermont and Warren counties in Ohio; Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties in Kentucky; and Dearborn County in southeast Indiana.

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