Transit board set to consider handing off streetcar management oversight to city administration

Series of votes set for Tuesday evening
Streetcar strikes Metro bus downtown
Posted at 6:15 PM, Nov 18, 2019

CINCINNATI — The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority is expected to officially drop its commitment to overseeing streetcar operations Tuesday, pending a parallel commitment by the city.

On the SORTA Board of Trustees' agenda for its monthly meeting Tuesday evening are four motions that, if approved, could initiate the process of relinquishing all SORTA management oversight of the management and operations of the Cincinnati Bell Connector.

Under its current management structure, the city-owned streetcar is managed and operated by a third-party firm, Transdev, under contractual supervision provided by the transit authority.

Tuesday's votes would constitute a move that multiple officials — including Mayor John Cranley and some on City Council and the SORTA Board — have said would be a critical step toward winning 2020 voter approval of a Hamilton County sales tax increase to boost funding for Cincinnati Metro bus service and the infrastructure that supports it.

The four motions on Tuesday's SORTA Board agenda call for the following:

  • an assignment and assumption agreement between SORTA and the city, that the city would assume all operations and management oversight from the transit board
  • another assignment and assumption agreement between SORTA and the city of Cincinnati for the latter to take over SORTA's current operations contract with Transdev
  • terminating the current Operations and Management Intergovernmental Agreement — often referred to as the "streetcar OMIGA" — initiated in 2015 between the city and the transit board, to allow the transit authority to assume management oversight of the city-owned streetcar
  • to rescind a Dec. 17, 2013 then-SORTA Board-approved resolution calling for the transit authority to assume operational costs associated with the streetcar

The so-called "streetcar divorce" is one part of what transit advocates are describing as a multi-step process toward changing the way Cincinnati Metro bus service is funded. On Nov. 5, Cincinnati voters approved a conditional City Charter amendment that would roll back the 0.3% portion of the city's earnings tax earmarked for transit service if and only if Hamilton County voters in 2020 approve a 0.8% sales tax levy to fund Metro's operational and capital costs as well as infrastructure improvements throughout the county.

Both city and transit officials have expressed intent to dissolve SORTA's association with the Cincinnati Bell Connector. In a Sept. 30, 2019 resolution, the SORTA Board said they would pursue a sales tax levy proposal in 2020 contingent on the transit agency's separation from streetcar operations.

Still lingering is the specific ballot language that will appear before Hamilton County voters in 2020, requesting the sales tax increase. SORTA has until 60 days before Election Day — whether in Ohio's March primary or the November general election — to submit that ballot language for approval.

City spokesman Casey Weldon told WCPO that any plans passed by the SORTA board regarding streetcar contracts or operations will require City Council approval.

The SORTA Board of Trustees will meet to consider these items at its regularly scheduled 6 p.m. meeting Nov. 19 at the agency's offices on Main Street Downtown.