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Proposed Budget Cuts For Public Transit Raise Concerns For Local Communities

The new two year state budget under consideration by the Ohio Senate includes $8 billion for transportation projects. Of that $8 billion, just $56 million a year is dedicated to Ohio’s public transit agencies.

Mark Donaghy is the Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Dayton RTA. He tells WYSO’s Jerry Kenney that $56 million should be higher.

Transcript (edited for length and clarity):

Mark Donaghy: I think the whole premise is ill advised. Why transit was singularly targeted for a cut, we still do not have an answer to, and our hope is that, the House, the Senate, you know, is going to hear what we said. We testified there last week, and we're actually hoping to get the number back to $70 million a year so at least we can maintain, the status quo where we're at and continue to fund these vital programs.

Jerry Kenney: That $56 to $70 million seems like a lot of money, but not compared to the $8 billion transportation budget. How does Ohio compare to other states in its investment in public transportation?

MD: Well, if you take the governor's proposal, for example, that would place us near the bottom. It would place us between South Dakota and Maine in terms of investment. We're surrounded by some states that invest highly in public transportation, like Michigan and Pennsylvania, both making huge commitments to public transit where we're down there in the in the 40s.

JK: Governor DeWine initially proposed a major cut to funding for Ohio public transportation agencies, and he still has to sign the proposed budget into law. What would cuts to state funding like that do to the service you are providing here in the Miami Valley?

MD: Well, it would be devastating, not just for us, but for transit agencies in all the 88 counties. But for us locally, we have used some of those funds to supplement direct service that's operating on the street today for some of our key projects, like connecting downtown to the UD campus. We've been running a shuttle for the Food Bank and their project to make sure to try and help eliminate the food desert situation. So, things like that would go by the wayside.

And the other thing we've used the state money for is we've actually leveraged it to bring in federal funds. So, for every one dollar of state money that we've used as match, we've brought in four dollars of federal money for some critical projects like our electric bus build and some local infrastructure projects as well.

JK: In an op-ed you wrote for the Dayton Daily News, you said that poor people and people of color will be hit the worst by the state's transit cuts. Can you explain that?

MD: Absolutely. I think it goes back to what we do every single day. You know, we carry on an average day, about 30,000 people, two-thirds of them are people going to and from work, and about 60 percent of our customers are people of color. And in many cases, they're accessing entry level jobs, and I've always seen what we do as, we're a bit of a bridge, we're trying to help people get out of poverty and to a self-sustaining place in life. So, that is what we do, and when you attack transit operating budgets eventually the hurt is going to happen to the community. In our case, that means it'll be disproportionate to communities of color.

JK: And so, looking forward, what would you like to see for the future of public transit in our area? And what are some of the big projects the Greater Dayton RTA has on the drawing board?

MD: Well, one project we've been working on for about four years is an actual rethink or redesign of our entire network of services, and we've got that in near final form, and the concept is to take our main corridors where we know we have a lot of density and we have a lot of ridership and give them much more frequent service, in some cases possibly 24 hour service, but to make sure that in the main corridors, people wait no more than 15 minutes for a bus in the rush hours, no more than 30 minutes, even in the off hours, and then much more service on nights and weekends, that's a key for our community.

A lot of the folks using our services either work in retail, health care or logistics jobs out around the airport facilities where we have Procter & Gamble, Chewey, Crock's and others and they have many, many night and weekend shifts. And we really need to address that to give people an opportunity basically to access these great jobs. You know statewide, six years ago, ODOT itself published a study that said transit should be funded at a number of $180 million a year. So, when I was asked by the Senate, I said, quite frankly, it should be at about $200 million a year to deliver the level of service that the people of Ohio deserve.

JK: Mark Donaghey is chief executive officer of the Greater Dayton RTA. Mark, thanks so much for your time and the information.

MD: Jerry, thank you guys for what you do.

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