The board of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority today announced at its monthly meeting that CEO Dwight Ferrell will leave the transit authority.
SORTA Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Darryl Haley will take Ferrell's place on an interim basis beginning Feb. 1. Haley has been with Metro since 2005. Ferrell will stay on as a consultant to SORTA for six months.
There was no indication on the SORTA board's agenda that Ferrell would be resigning. Ferrell, who came to SORTA from his job as Chief Operating Officer of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority in 2015, told reporters following the announcement that his departure has been in the works for a while, pointing out that his contract expires next year.
"This is not abrupt," he said. "This is something that I've thought about. It's just the right time."
The departure comes as SORTA grapples with big deficits around its Metro bus system. The transit authority must decide soon whether to seek a Hamilton County sales tax levy next spring to shore up more than $160 million in budget shortfalls over the coming decade.
SORTA was poised to present that levy on the November ballot this year, but its board opted against it.
Depending on the size of that levy, Metro could add routes, increase service frequency and even establish bus rapid transit in some areas — all key measures seen by transit activists as necessary to reverse declining ridership and address shortcomings in current Metro bus coverage.
Metro’s ridership has gone down steadily over the past number of years. The bus system gave about 17.4 million rides in 2012. Last year, it gave 14.27 million. This year, it is on track to give just 13.74 million. That translated to a loss of $3 million from the $22 million in fares Metro collected in 2012.
Thousands of riders on SORTA’s Metro system face long, convoluted commutes, some riding for more than an hour and taking transfers to get from one Cincinnati neighborhood to another just a few miles away. Just 48,793 of the Cincinnati metropolitan area's one million jobs are reachable via public transit in an hour, a study from the University of Minnesota’s Accessibility Observatory found earlier this year.