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Cincinnati/SORTA Trade Transit Assets For Bus Service In City

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) is willing to guarantee bus service inside Cincinnati in exchange for the city transferring transit assets and remaining city transit funds to the bus agency. The full council could vote on the agreement Wednesday. The SORTA Board has already approved the proposal. 

The transit assets include the Queensgate garage property at 1401 Bank Street and the Bond Hill garage at 4700 Paddock Road. Plus, the city had an interest in certain rolling stock (buses) used by SORTA.

The city will also provide SORTA the remaining dollars in the city's income tax transit fund when it closes out sometime next year.  The city has been collecting a 0.3% income tax since 1973, and it's been used to fund SORTA.

That will change on Oct. 1 when a 0.8% sales tax for all of Hamilton County will start being collected and used as the primary funding source for SORTA.

The asset transfer that will happen now was actually contemplated back in 1973.

"The 1973 agreement provided that the city would convey to SORTA all assets operated by SORTA for the city at such time as a political subdivision other than the city, and excluding the federal or state governments, is providing operating subsidies equal in total in amount to that provided by the city, but did not provide the terms of such transfer," reads the city ordinance on the agreement.

Interim City Solicitor Andrew Garth explained the ordinance to a council committee Tuesday.

"SORTA will maintain current pre-COVID bus service levels," Garth said. "So, right now things may have been adjusted due to the emergency circumstances relating to the coronavirus. This looks back to that and it looks at the number of routes, it looks to the number of stops, looks to service hours, and other transit metrics and says this is a new baseline, and sort of we'll commit to maintaining those over time."

And City Council will have a role if SORTA wants to make major changes to routes, stop or service hours in the city going forward.

"They will come back to City Council, or to the city manager, as the agreement provides in order to inform you and if there are any material changes effectively to that service or reductions to that service level, and City Council will be asked to vote to approve those changes," Garth said.

The transfer of remaining city transit tax funds to SORTA will happen in two phases. One payment will come in October. The second after the final collection of 2020 tax return and any remaining expenses to the fund are settled.

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