An Open Letter to the RTA

To Mr. Joseph Calabrese,


While I appreciate your openness in holding public hearings, I remain unimpressed with what I saw at the event held in Rocky River. Not because I’m opposed to rate increases, or because I insist on the continuation of any specific route or service; instead, my misgivings are due to the lack of trust in the leadership that was on display that Monday night.


Though I don’t assume to speak for any majority of the people, I am a proud user of your service. However, unlike many of the patrons that attended the meeting, I ride the bus not because I have to, but because I can. And as such, I can state as fact, that there is a portion of the population that would easily pay the increase in fares to continue to commute in such a fashion. But because I’m not blind, I can also see that, without due diligence, an even larger percentage of riders stand to suffer, perhaps unduly, if the cuts you’ve proposed are made.


While you gave a wonderful presentation showing the increases in cost that have hit almost every aspect of our nation’s transportation industry, and while I was very relieved that it seems that your team has put many hours into evaluating ridership and profitability of individual routes, I think your synopsis was lacking in at least one major area of concern.


The main questions I have fall in the area of management. You see, before I join any group insisting on action, I want proof that my efforts will not be wasted. While it seems obvious that an increase in fuel costs would necessitate an increase in rates, I have questions as to how we arrived at this point in time, and I believe it’s legitimate to, at first, pose questions such as…

Why did this increase in gas prices seem to come as such a surprise to your leadership group?


Certainly, an industry whose growth in new riders depends on an increase in the cost of individual transportation would have planned for the time when those circumstances arose. Why are we working on keeping the boat afloat only after it has hit the iceberg?


And, if your aim is to serve the transportation needs of the county, how do you suggest that you are achieving that goal if you cut back on services at the very time when more and more people become increasingly dependent on them?


Also, who exactly is responsible for the 63% decline in state funding over the past five years? You mean to tell me that you couldn’t find a single politician to champion the efforts of public transportation in any of the past few election cycles?


As I suggested in person, I don’t have any real problem with shelling out a little more money for my “fare” share, but before I do, I want a reasonable assurance that the people handling that money will know what to do with it, if and when they get it. And having the CEO stand before a room full of people who essentially pay his salary and admit that he’s been “ineffective” in his position is not exactly comforting.


And while you go about explaining how we got into this $20 million hole, could you answer a few more questions…?


Why does it cost only a few cents more to ride the #246 Park-n-Ride, with its tray tables, individual reading lights, and cushioned seats, than it does to hop on the gum-riddled, stain-soaked, and frequently smelly #26? Is the longer route actually cheaper to operate because it takes the highway? If that’s the case, why not have a Park-n-Ride from the Marc’s Plaza?

Why does a community circulator that serves mostly those seeking access to local shopping offer extensive services during hours when stores are not even open? Is there that big of a draw for a bus that drives down Highland Avenue at four in the morning?


And why do we need buses that talk, when drivers were already calling out the next stop to those in need? Most of the time, the computer voice is wrong anyway. So I’d like to know how much that little “perk” set us back. Realistically, if you have the GPS system in place so that a bus’ computer knows where it is, then why can’t you let the bus stops in on the secret? I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think I would still need a bus every fifteen minutes if a simple electronic sign could tell me exactly how long until the next bus arrived. Better yet is the system in Chicago, which allows you to log on and see exactly where your bus is. Then I wouldn’t have to leave the comfort of my own home until I knew it was time to go.


And speaking of stations and stops, if you couldn’t afford the $3.5 million to build the new Rapid stop at Van Aiken, why not ask someone like Starbucks to pitch in a little money? In exchange they could have the exclusive rights to sell coffee there. Or, better yet, how much do you think Burger King or McDonald’s would pay to have exclusive access to the hundreds of riders stepping off the new $6.5 million platform at Puritas Road at the end of a long work day?


All I ask is that before you request a single dollar more, you spend a little more effort assuring us all that the money already spent has not gone to waste, and that the aid you're requesting won’t just subsidize another high profile trolley downtown where a circulator will suffice, or a covered bus stop for the occasional tourist when the rest of us stand in the rain and cold, or continuing the ridiculous Lakefront line at the expense of an elderly person’s only means of transportation.


Prove to us all that the assistance you seek is to cover a monetary shortfall and not a managerial shortcoming. I’m sure in no time flat, we as a community can easily overwhelm Columbus with the power of citizen action. But I think the people of this city deserve to know first: Are we helping you or covering for you?


If you care to address any of these questions, please submit your answers to the Lakewood Observer. This letter will be made public, as I believe this is a very public issue.



Bret Callentine

Read More on Perspective
Volume 4, Issue 17, Posted 9:54 PM, 08.10.2008