The Human Services Chamber recently conducted a survey of the clients and staff of our member agencies. What we learned from over 700 responses is that 76% of the bus riders are from households with incomes below $25K and 58% of them regularly use the bus to get to work or school. Additionally, 84% of these riders do not have access to a car, so the bus is likely their only option to get to work. When asked what improvements would make a 25-cent increase worth it to them, over 30% of respondents with incomes under $25K said they could not afford a 25-cent increase.
In response to these findings, several of our of members worked together to come up with a Transportation Empowerment Fund proposal. This Fund is designed to help low income riders overcome financial barriers associated with bus fares and future fare increases. This initiative would provide free or discounted bus passes or other types of ride options to eligible low-income citizens through participating non-profit or government organizations. Participating organizations would purchase these passes at a 50% discount. The Fund would be managed by a broad panel of stakeholders, including bus riders and representatives of SORTA, the business community, and the human services sector.
We believe funding in the initial amount of $300K per year, or 0.6% of projected 2018 Transit Fund revenues, would connect a significant number of workers to jobs, which is a stated goal of the Cincinnati Business Chamber’s Regional Transportation Goals. As an example, $300K could help fund discounted monthly passes for 1,400 low income workers. This initiative would also offset the reduction in ridership that is projected to occur with future fare increases.
The Reinventing Metro Plan proposes annual fare increases over the next decade. Clearly, these increases would create a significant financial barrier for many who rely on the bus to get to their jobs. The Transportation Empowerment Fund is one way to help lift that barrier.