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Study: RTA Should Replace All Rail Cars Within 10 Years

An RTA Waterfront train. [Tupungato / Shutterstock]
An RTA Waterfront train.

The board of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority received a recommendation Tuesday morning to replace all light and heavy rail cars within ten years. The cheapest of three options identified by engineering group LTK - replacing all cars in the near future - would cost $717 million in total for the two fleets. That figure includes maintenence costs and a mid-life overhaul of the cars over a 30 year time period.

Recently, maintenance costs have risen significantly for the current fleet. LTK found a 148 percent increase in maintenance costs for heavy rail vehicles and a 90 percent increase for the light rail cars and said RTA spends more money to maintain each car than any other peer agency in the Midwest. LTK also found having just one fleet would result in significant infrastructure work at all stations, making that the most expensive option. The light rail vehciles are currently the second oldest fleet in the U.S.

"(With) five year expected life on the heavy rail car and 10 year expected life on the light rail car ..., this management team will now begin the process of looking at how will we finance that immediate need of heavy rail cars," said RTA's interim CEO Dr. Floun'say Caver, who added funding could come from many different sources. 

"It's not just particularly debt but looking at the stack that we'll need. And so, we have $24 million saved currently," Caver said. "We're looking at ways to leverage grant dollars, and then we're also looking at other federal programs that may be able to assist."

The board also passed a resolution to issue $30 million in bonds and an additional $18 million for potential refinancing of projects.

"Those bonds are used for the local match for federal funds, and so it helps us to match a grant," Caver said. "Grants traditionally are 80 percent, and we have to have 20 percent locally. And so we do that through this bond issue as well as through our sales tax."

Fare Study Amidst Record Low Ridership

LTK also conducted a fare study for RTA, which is suffering from record low ridership. Caver announced at the meeting that March ridership was down six percent from 2018.

The LTK group said half of frequent riders are losing money by not using weekly or monthly passes, but Caver does not believe that is contributing to a reduction in riders.

"I think it may be a choice and it also may be just the knowledge," Caver said. "Maybe there are individuals who don't understand the five-ride pass. The all-day pass is one of the largest and easiest to access. The consultant mentioned that the five-day pass may not be in multiple places, so similarly, you can't buy it off of the bus itself."

The study showed Cleveland RTA has a higher fare than other Midwest transit, but Caver says that doesn't tell the whole story.

"If you think about the other aspect, it showed we had one of the lower costs per ride," Caver said. "And so, individuals who buy the $5.50 all day pass are transferring a bit more often, so he mentioned that their (fare) was about 80 cents per ride."

Fare Increase or Decrease?

Caver was also interested in studying the elasticity of demand portion of the fare study, which could guide the board on fare increases. 

"Should we raise the fare?" Caver said. "What would that do to ridership? And on a converse, should we decrease the fare, what would that do to ridership? And those would be key points for us to review."

The board delayed a fare increase Tuesday and approved another year of the Kids Ride Free program for the Summer. RTA says they gave 87,000 free rides to kids in the program from June through August. Up to three children can ride free with an adult aged 18 or older.

Caver also announced that RTA will make a designated stop at the Amazon facility in Euclid at the old mall site on Bluestone Boulevard. 

The board will begin interviewing permanent CEO candidates next month. Caver declined to comment on whether or not he was a candidate. 


Glenn Forbes is supervising producer of newscasts at Ideastream Public Media.