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Memo: Taking over streetcar operations will cost city more than $550,000

Streetcar strikes Metro bus downtown
Posted at 11:25 AM, Aug 29, 2019

CINCINNATI — A long-awaited plan to streamline streetcar operations began to take shape Thursday morning, when City Manager Patrick Duhaney detailed what it will take for his administration to assume control of the transit system's management.

In a memo accompanying the plan, Duhaney said it was developed "to ensure the timely and successful transition of management of the Cincinnati Bell Connector from SORTA to the city."

Read the full plan in the viewer below.

It's a transition officials expect to cost the city more than $550,000 to implement. The bulk of that money -- $536,000 -- will come from the already-pinched streetcar operating fund, Duhaney said. The remaining $17,000 will come from the streetcar capital fund.

The 29-page streetcar transition plan delineates what will ultimately be nearly a year-long transition process, removing the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority from its role in overseeing the streetcar's third-party operating firm, Transdev. Under its current management structure, the city owns the streetcar and all its assets, and SORTA holds an operations contract with Transdev on the city's behalf.

The most dramatic change actually took place on Aug. 1, when the city's Interim Deputy Director of Streetcar Services, Travis Jeric began reporting directly to SORTA CEO Daryl Haley as well as Duhaney. Previously, streetcar services were overseen by SORTA's Director of Rail Services, Paul Grether. Grether has been reassigned to a role in the Cincinnati Metro administration.

The transition will occur in three phases, the first of which -- Jeric's positioning -- has already taken place. The second phase, currently underway, will involve renegotiating Transdev's contract into an agreement with the city administration rather than with the transit authority. This will ultimately require multiple rounds of City Council approvals over the coming months.

Jeric -- the transition plan's architect -- hopes that contract renegotiation will wrap up by the end of 2019. Then, the transition's third phase will involve renegotiating grants initially awarded to SORTA by the Federal Transit Administration. The entire transition process should conclude by March 2020.

City Councilman Greg Landsman first proposed absorbing streetcar management into the city administration in May 2018, after a long series of mechanical issues and low ridership had the council demanding answers from both the city manager and SORTA officials.

It led Assistant City Administrator John Juech to diagnose the problem as not having "one neck to choke" when looking for someone to hold accountable for the streetcar's persistent problems.

There is a political element at play, as well. Multiple city and county elected officials -- including Mayor John Cranley -- have expressed concern that a county-wide sales tax levy to boost Cincinnati Metro bus service would likely fail at the polls next year if SORTA still maintained control of the streetcar's management.

Cincinnati Streetcar Transition Plan by WCPO Web Team on Scribd