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Mass transit advocates call for Cuyahoga County leaders to get on the bus

 Two RTA buses drive near Public Square in downtown Cleveland.
Nick Castele
Ideastream Public Media
Two RTA buses drive near Public Square in downtown Cleveland.

Cuyahoga County's elected officials and leaders of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority are being challenged to rely only on public transit for a week starting Saturday.

The challenge was presented by members of Clevelanders for Public Transit (CPT) to Greater Cleveland RTA board members at its Tuesday meeting, and to Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne at the County Council meeting last week.

The transit advocacy organization will hold a rally at Public Square Saturday, on Transit Equity Day, to kick off the challenge.

"Since those who rely on transit are more likely to be poor, politically weak and multiply marginalized, Clevelanders for Public Transit calls on you to prioritize their needs," CPT chairperson Chris Martin said during the RTA board meeting.

Transit Equity Day takes place on Feb. 4, Rosa Parks' birthday, to honor her contributions to the civil rights movement and the year-long Montgomery Bus Boycott.

At the time, buses were an integral part of the everyday commute for residents across the country, CPT member Matthew Ahn said. But since then, the role of public transportation shifted.

"Transit no longer functions as... a way to level the playing field. Folks don't envision it that way," Ahn said. "Any sort of long term equitable transport... structure that we create in society needs to have transit have that role in order for us to create a truly equitable society for everybody."

In Cleveland, 22% of households do not have access to a personal car, according to Cleveland.com, and in East Cleveland that number jumps to 35%.

The challenge will give local leaders the opportunity to learn from the experiences of everyday transit riders, Ahn said, and use those experiences to inform their decision and policy making.

“We just want to sort of remind them that the operational decisions that they make do have real life impacts, and real-life impacts that may potentially sort of fall harder on certain marginalized populations than the greater public as a whole.”

Ahn, who is a law professor at Cleveland State University, said reforms tend to be most effective when both the expert perspective and lived experiences are considered.

"If we have folks on the board who are already local government and governance experts who are also, then, well versed in what it means to try to get around without a car in Cleveland," he said, "that can only improve the operational decisions that are being made."

The rally will begin at 2 p.m. at Public Square near Ontario Street and Euclid Avenue. Around 2:40 p.m., participants will board the GCRTA #26 bus to Happy Dog at 5801 Detroit Ave. to engage in conversations about public transit over tater tots.

Zaria Johnson is a reporter/producer at Ideastream Public Media covering the environment.