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Ohio Still Fails Public Transit Riders as Debate Begins on Next Biennial ODOT Budget

I’ve heard it often from my fellow Ohioans: “Public transit just isn’t convenient for me” or “The bus doesn’t go where I want to go or when I want to go.”

The answer to why is simple. The State of Ohio has historically and grossly underfunded public transit.

Advocates like All Aboard Ohio and our allies won a sizeable increase from the Ohio General Assembly for public transit funding in 2019 and saved that increase from being cut by the DeWine administration in the following two-year budget.

But even the rescue of $73 million a year for transit funding amounted to barely 2.5-percent of the total ODOT budget.

The State of Ohio’s own 2015 Transportation Needs Study recommended a minimum investment of 10 percent by the year 2025, which would have amounted to $185 million a year. We are far from there, still.

Who gets left standing at the bus stop? We all do, whether we ride or not. The State of Ohio still fails all of us who could or do ride public transit. How?

  • It fails our economy by limiting our ability to access jobs, education, health care, and more.

  • It fails our economy by not providing either new or existing businesses access to the largest and most mobile workforce possible.

  • It fails our environment by forcing more Ohioans to drive because they have no other option and creating more automotive emissions and fossil fuel use.

  • It fails our cities and suburbs by limiting the kind of connectivity that can benefit our communities.

  • It fails urban and rural Ohio and Ohio’s aging population by creating obstacles to accessing daily needs as simple as going to the dentist, the bank, or to a better grocery for more nutritious food.

We are All Aboard Ohio, which means we are not just about passenger rail. We are also about better, faster, more convenient public transit that moves Ohioans where they want to go and when they want to go.

But with this upcoming ODOT biennial budget, we cannot just ask for funding that holds the line. We must go in asking for more. Why not ask for the $185 million a year that is on ODOT’s own study books in black and white?

Yes, commuting patterns are changing. Not every job is “downtown” today. The Covid pandemic accelerated that situation. But our workforce didn’t disappear. It’s shifting. It had already been shifting into huge distribution centers that are not always served by local transit system as these centers are built in mostly rural locations, miles from a bus line and leaving employees no choice but to spend significant parts of their paychecks to drive their own cars from home to the job and back...... if they have or can afford a car.

Nothing brought that into stronger focus than the announcement a patch of rural Central Ohio land outside of New Albany had been picked for two major INTEL computer chip manufacturing plants projected to create over 20,000 jobs.

But when that news broke, it became immediately clear that the only transportation consideration made was to widen State Route 161 and add two new highway interchanges. Nothing......nothing....was even mentioned about transit. After All Aboard Ohio Board Chair Theresa Allen’s op-ed appeared in the Columbus Dispatch, it got that conversation going over what role transit could and should play in connecting people to these new jobs and more jobs to follow.

But conversations like these beg the question: Why does Ohio continue to underfund public transportation?

Let’s be asking that question of Ohio legislators and Governor not when they put a budget figure in front of the General Assembly in January.

The best connective transportation tissue Ohio can develop to move the workforce of our future is great local public transit that connects with an equally great intercity passenger rail network. Your phone calls, letters, and emails to the state legislators and the Governor you elected in November need to carry that message.

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