Published on February 7th, 2019 | by Guest Contributor0
Stu Nicholson: Mobility for All Ohioans Left at the Curb
Funding for Public Transit and Active Transportation Still Treated as an Afterthought
By Stu Nicholson, Public Affairs Director for All Aboard Ohio
Transportation infrastructure funding in Ohio is once again a sexy topic. Governor Mike DeWine recognized it and appointed a special committee to examine the critical need to identify and secure funding for the next Ohio Department of Transportation Budget. But when you look down the list of appointees, one obvious question arises.
Who represents Ohio’s public transit systems and those who use them?
The easy and dismaying answer? There is no voice representing those who need or choose to use Ohio’s urban, suburban and rural transit systems as a critical connection to jobs, education and health care among other daily needs. Instead, the discussion and the committee are aimed at one purpose, funding highways and bridges. It is likely the panel will recommend an increase in Ohio’s gasoline tax.
Any effort to raise Ohio’s gasoline tax must ultimately get approval from the Ohio General Assembly. Newly-elected Speaker of the Ohio House Larry Householder indicates he’ll make this a legislative priority and, holding out a verbal and limp carrot, says identifying and securing better funding for transit will be “the icing on the cake” if the General Assembly gets around to it.
Not good enough, sir. And not good enough, Governor. Ohio deserves better.
Whether one needs or chooses transit, riding a bike or walking from Point A in Ohio to Point B, we who do are treated as an afterthought, left at the curb as if all Ohioans can simply grab the car keys and go.
Bus lines are lifelines. And because of huge cuts in state funding, too many Ohioans struggle to get to work, school or even doctors’ appointments. Let’s change that in the 2020-2021 state budget. #OhBudgethttps://t.co/WeHjElx1Cx pic.twitter.com/Kuy11NumIz
— Policy Matters Ohio (@PolicyMattersOH) February 4, 2019
In spite of decades of being grossly underfunded, Ohio ranks 11th nationally in overall transit use according to a 2015 Statewide Transit Needs Study from (wait for it) The Ohio Department of Transportation: a report that also acknowledged Ohio ranks 45th among states who fund public transit.
Let that sink in.
Ohio is 5th from the bottom. Ohio invests a pathetic 67-cents per capita on transit. Here’s what our neighboring states invest:
- Pennsylvania $89.16
- Michigan $9.92
- Indiana $6.35
- West Virginia $3.01
- Kentucky $0.76
(Source): Federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics
This is the same Ohio whose former governor, John Kasich, sent back $400-million that would have revived passenger rail between Ohio’s three largest cities for the first time since 1971. Had that not happened, trains would have begun connecting the “3-C’s” and points in between in late 2014 or early 2015. We’d be already planning increased speeds, more trains, and even new routes but for that.
There’s no dispute that Ohio needs better and safer highways, streets and bridges. Ohio should adopt an aggressive “fix it first” policy for our roadways. But Ohio’s government continues to ignore connecting our state with passenger rail, transit and more bike and pedestrian-friendly options at the peril of our mobility, our health and even our economy.
Neither the Governor nor the General Assembly seems to understand that last point, especially. A statewide transportation system that grows its transportation options not only benefits all Ohioans, it makes Ohio’s strategic business location even more attractive to both new and existing businesses, educational institutions and health centers that want to expand both their outreach and their labor pool. It also makes Ohio better able to retain our young, home-grown talent or new residents with fresh ideas, increasing numbers of whom don’t want the financial burden of owning and driving a car.
Ohioans need a transportation policy that reflects this new reality: Our mobility, freedom and growth depend on a full spectrum of transportation options. We can start by engaging all voices in the discussion.
Stu Nicholson is a 22-year television news veteran, former Public Information Officer for the Central Ohio Transit Authority and the Ohio Rail Development Commission, writer and public relations professional and life-long rail and transit advocate. He currently serves as Public Affairs Director for All Aboard Ohio.