SORTA Board Approves 'Streetcar Divorce'

The move separating the transit agency from the controversial rail transit project comes as SORTA looks to put a county tax levy for the region's Metro bus service on the ballot.

click to enlarge The Cincinnati Bell Connector - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
The Cincinnati Bell Connector

Members of the board of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority voted this evening on a plan that will, pending Cincinnati City Council approval, formally cede control of and responsibility for the Cincinnati Bell Connector over to the City of Cincinnati.

The move separating the 3.6 mile transit system from the transit authority comes as SORTA looks to present a .8 cent Hamilton County sales tax levy for voter approval next year to fund a revamp of the region's Metro bus system. 

The 13-member board actually voted on four related motions regarding the streetcar. One actually hands over control of the streetcar. Another strikes a 2013 action by the board that states that SORTA holds financial responsibility for the transit project. Two others transfer SORTA's agreement with Transdev, which runs the streetcar's day-to-day operations, and Cincinnati Bell, which pays for naming rights, over to the city.

Streetcar critics have drawn attention to the rail loop's ridership numbers — which continue to be well below projections — and expense as reasons to oppose the coming bus levy, even going so far as to call it a "streetcar tax." 

Cutting ties with the streetcar has been seen as a vital step in SORTA's effort to pass the bus levy.

The split has been in the works for more than a year. If city council approves, the city will take over operations — and the streetcar's expenses — starting in January, 2020.

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