CINCINNATI — The Greater Cincinnati region is one of the most car-reliant in the nation, but thousands of commuters still rely on Cincinnati Metro bus service to get to and from work, the grocery store or medical appointments each day. For many of those bus commuters, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck, Metro is their only transportation option, and sources of assistance to help cover the cost of bus fare have been limited.
Starting Jan. 1, those riders will have at least one new place to look for help.
Everybody Rides Metro is a nonprofit foundation that, from 2008 to 2016, helped subsidize more than 2 million Cincinnati Metro rides over eight years for low-income bus commuters. Over the last four years, that assistance paused due to dried-up federal funding.
After Issue 7 passed in May, leaders with the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority say it's time to rekindle that program.
"Each bus ride that ERM and its partner organizations make possible is a connection to jobs, healthcare and other vital human services that help beneficiaries maintain self-sufficiency," said SORTA Board Chairman Kreg Keesee Monday in a news release. SORTA owns and operates Cincinnati Metro.
The transit agency announced Monday that Keesee and the board appointed a new seven-member board to oversee $500,000 in annual funds to support low-income riders, including discounted fares for riders who qualify.
"As we continue working to reinvent Metro, it’s important to us that Metro is accessible for all," Keesee said.
The new board consists of:
- Aaron Bley, Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired
- Katie Frazier, Changing Gears
- Kreg Keesee, SORTA Board Chair
- Angela King, The Freestore Foodbank
- Gina Marsh, Human Services Chamber of Hamilton County
- Lisa Nichols, Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services
- Kathleen Wyenandt, SORTA Board Member
"Reinvent Metro" isn't just a turn of phrase from the transit authority chairman. It's a nod to the Reinventing Metro plan that advocates say is now possible after Hamilton County voters passed a new 0.8% sales tax levy to fund Cincinnati Metro and other transportation and infrastructure improvements throughout the county.
While it remains to be seen how much the new sales tax levy will raise annually, supporters predicted roughly $135 million per year. Some economists have told WCPO it could be as much as 5% less, with both projections coming before the pandemic crippled economies across the globe.
Part of the Reinventing Metro plan called for creating a transportation empowerment fund, meant to partner with local nonprofits and organizations to help provide employers with reduced-fare Metro passes for employees who need them.
A SORTA news release indicated the ERM's first order of businesses would be to provide 50% of the funds necessary to initiate the transportation empowerment fund.