The good news: the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority -- which operates Metro and Access transit services -- has balanced its 2017 operating budget with no fare increases and no reduction in the overall level of service, although some Metro routes will be changed to increase system efficiency.
The bad news: SORTA’s budget is not structurally balanced and deficits are projected every year beginning in 2018.
The total SORTA budget for 2017 is $109.1 million, of which $96.1 million is for operating expenses and just under $13 million for capital expenses like bus replacement.
To balance the budget for 2017, SORTA made a number of non-recurring changes, including a switch to self-funded health insurance and one-time savings. Capital projects have been deferred. Four management positions were eliminated in early September. The belt-tightening included exploring all options for reducing expenses without impacting service. The budget also assumes full use of the city transit fund, except the 10% reserve.
SORTA is considering service changes to begin in mid-2017 that will shift under-used service to routes that need more service in an effort to boost ridership and bring in more fare revenue. Plans are being developed to address the projected 2018 deficit, which could include service reductions and fare increases.
SORTA also continues to struggle with replacement of old buses and replacement of basic capital items needed to operate the system. Of its 357 buses, in 2017 Metro will have 8 buses that are 16 years old and 63 total that are past their 12-year useful life. Older buses cost much more to maintain and operate, adding to the expense of operating the system.
“We will run to the problem and not kick the can down the road. Our organization is at a crossroads. We need more funding not just to address this budget issue, but to grow the system to meet the community’s need for better access to jobs,” said Jason Dunn, Chair of the SORTA Board. “The SORTA board has directed staff to explore the possibility of a levy in 2017. We’re reaching out to elected officials, community groups and leaders, and the public to get involved in this process. Now, more than ever, we need a long-term plan to provide and fund a sustainable transit system that spurs growth and improves mobility across the region.”
“We can’t relax now that the 2017 budget is balanced. SORTA’s 2018 budget will be extremely difficult and some hard decisions are ahead in the very near future,” said Dwight A. Ferrell, Metro’s CEO. “At the same time we are working aggressively to change our system with a new strategic plan and a thorough analysis of how to improve service to the community, our funding is not keeping pace with the rising costs of operating our current transit system. The old model is broken, both in terms of service delivery and funding. We need to reinvent Metro.”