Council Passes Streetcar Funding, Operating Agreements

Cincinnati City Council on Nov. 19 passed operating and funding agreements for the city’s streetcar, a milestone for the contested project.

Cincinnati City Council on Nov. 19 passed operating and funding agreements for the city’s streetcar, a milestone for the contested project.

“Three months ago, I didn’t know if we’d be here today with a revenue stream,” said Councilwoman Amy Murray, who chairs Council’s transportation committee. Murray was opposed to the project originally, but voted for the funding and operating measures.

Council members Charlie Winburn and Christopher Smitherman voted against the measures. Smitherman said he still had serious concerns about the project’s financial prospects, saying no one is sure what ridership will be like.

The plan will use $1.5 million raised through parking meter increases, $1.3 million from fares and advertising rights and an eventual $2 million from incremental decreases to commercial property tax abatements to fund the 3.8 mile streetcar system’s estimated $4 million annual operating costs.

The plan does not require using  $900,000 pledged by streetcar supporters the Haile Foundation, nor does it require a residential parking permit proposed by Mayor John Cranley. That permit could have cost as much as $300, making it the most expensive in the country. Cranley, who campaigned on halting the project last year, said the plan was “creative,” though he still did not offer full-throated support for the streetcar.

“These revenues and sources could have been used better on other investments, and the best outcome would have been stopping the project,” he said. “But we were overturned on that decision and we have to make the best of it.”

Council headed off a fight that had been brewing over whether to employ the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority’s unionized employees to run the streetcar or bid the work out to a private company, at least for now. Consultants for the transit authority say a private company could save the city as much as $300,000 a year, though Democrats on council and representatives from SORTA’s union debate that number.

Council sidestepped the argument by passing a resolution stating that SORTA should bid the job out but that the final decision on staffing will be voted on by council, which has so far leaned toward hiring SORTA employees. One possible arrangement would have SORTA workers doing the actual driving while a private company performs the managerial side of operating the streetcar.

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