Task force to steer the future of Metro

Posted at 3:20 PM, Sep 15, 2015

CINCINNATI — By now, it’s no secret: Public transit is hitting the gas throughout Cincinnati.

Red Bike, the city’s public bike share program, just celebrated what executive director Jason Barron called a “tremendous rookie year.” Manufacturers in New York are taking Cincinnati’s state-of-the-art (if a bit behind schedule) streetcar vehicles out to the tracks for testing. Cincinnati Metro recently held a job fair because they haven’t had enough drivers to keep up with demand.

With all of these moving parts, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority is working to put direction to this acceleration.

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When it comes to the future of what SORTA Board Chair Jason Dunn sees as the authority's primary service pillar, its Metro bus system, the board has convened a task force to take the wheel.

According to SORTA spokeswoman Sallie Hilvers, SORTA recently hired transportation and infrastructrure consultants AECOM to assess current bus service and look at ways of fine-tuning the system's operations, building on the authority's Go*Forward Transit Plan, compiled in 2013.

The Metro Futures Task Force will coincide with AECOM's consultation and consist of community leaders who will put a thumb on the public's pulse to see how the region's largest public transit option can run more effectively and serve an even wider community more efficiently.

"We have a good cross-section (on the task force) to represent a variety of community interests," Hilvers said.

Hilvers said the task force consists of about 20 community, business and government leaders, with three co-chair seats, held by:

> Jason Dunn - Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau and SORTA Board Chair

> Delores Hargrove-Young - Manufacturing firm XLC Services, LLC

> George H. Vincent - Dinsmore & Shohl, one of Cincinnati’s oldest and biggest law firms

See full task force roster below.

“SORTA is at a crossroads,” Dunn said in a statement released Tuesday. “This region will not reach its full potential without a vibrant transportation system. Very soon, we will have to make some decisions.”

Chief among SORTA's concerns, Hilvers said, is making sure the transit authority is connecting residents with jobs. "Are we really going where people need to go for employment?" Hilvers asked, saying the task force will help answer that and other questions regarding service levels and map coverage throughout the coming months.

“As an employer of a significant number of employees throughout the region, it’s an initiative that can enhance career and personal opportunities for more citizens and provide more workforce resources for employers," Hargrove-Young said. "It would help meet a critical need for companies needing talented employees and for potential employees needing more access."

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“We have to keep up with jobs that are growing in the suburbs and the workforce that has to leave the city to get to those jobs,” Dunn told WCPO in July. “We’ll be having those discussions over the next coming months and make a decision probably first quarter of 2016 as to what we’re going to do."

Dunn told WCPO that, among a host of options on how to keep up with growing demand, SORTA leaders have considered the idea of a tax levy to fund future initiatives.

Hamilton County voters in 2002 rejected a half-cent sales tax to build out light rail service from Downtown to the  Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and repurpose the city’s abandoned subway for light rail use, and a phone survey in 2014 found that, while 61 percent of respondents felt a tax levy was the best way to fund expanded bus service, 58 percent said they would vote against a half-cent permanent sales tax.

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To that end, Hilvers said, SORTA's new task force will conduct a series of listening sessions beginning in October, visiting different geographical areas throughout the city and the region to gather pubic input.

Hilvers expects the task force to return to the SORTA board of trustees early next year.

Metro Futures Task Force

* Jason Dunn, Cincinnati USA Visitors & Conventions Bureua, SORTA (co-chair)

* Delores Hargrove-Young, XLC Services, LLC

* George H. Vincent, Dinsmore & Shohl

* Ed Babbitt, Western & Southern Financial Group

* Karen Bankston, University of Cincinnati

* Nia Baucke, StrivePartnership

* Derrick Braziel, MORTAR Cincinnati

* Joseph Byrum, Ohio Valley Goodwill Industries

* Alfonso Cornejo, Hispanic Chamber Cincinnati USA, AC & Consulting Associates

* Bishop Victor Couzens, Inspirational Baptist Church - City of Destiny

* Colin Groth, StriveTogether

* Darin C. Hall, Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority

* Barbara Hauser, Procter & Gamble

* Eric Kearney, former Ohio Senator, Company Kearney

* Robert Koehler, OKI Regional Council of Governments

* Peter McLinden, AFL-CIO

* Johnmark Oudersluys, CityLink Center

* Mary Stagaman, Agenda 360

* Bishop David Thomas, New St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church

* Pete Witte, Baron ID Products