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Greater Cleveland RTA Asks Riders To Weigh In On Transit Agency's Future

An RTA Healthline bus drives through Playhouse Square on Tuesday. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
An RTA Healthline bus drives through Playhouse Square on Tuesday.

The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority is looking in the mirror this year, as officials plan for the next decade of the transportation system’s life.

RTA will conduct studies on a possible system redesign, fare policy, rail cars and the organization’s efficiency, Deputy General Manager for Operations Joel Freilich said. The Greater Cleveland Partnership also plans to hire a firm to study the RTA’s financial prospects.

“We are sort of taking a whole look from a fresh perspective at the whole RTA system,” Freilich said in an interview this week.

The agency wants Northeast Ohioans to take an online survey about bus service at riderta.com/systemdesign. RTA will also conduct in-person surveys at bus stops. The questionnaire asks whether RTA should focus on increasing ridership in busy areas or on serving a wider geographic region.

“Are you looking for more frequent service in the areas on the routes that we already provide, or are you looking for us to take you to places that we can’t take you today?” Freilich said.

He said the redesign study will produce several maps showing possible directions RTA could take, depending on how much money the agency has.  

Transit advocates last year called for RTA’s board to put a tax levy on the ballot, saying the agency urgently needed more revenue. But that proposal died at an August board meeting, with some board members saying RTA wasn’t ready to ask voters for more money.

These studies will help RTA draw up a strategic plan for the 2020s, Freilich said, and inform any decisions the board makes about revenue.

“Collectively, the studies will help our board of trustees determine what the board might put on the ballot for Cuyahoga County voters to consider,” he said.

RTA hired Portland-based transit planner Jarrett Walker + Associates for the redesign study, which will last until October, Freilich said. The contract is not to exceed $173,691. 

Freilich said that any decisions about new or changed routes won’t happen until next year or beyond and will involve more public input.

Akshai Singh with rider coalition Clevelanders for Public Transit said it was a “positive sign” to see RTA moving forward with the study. The question posed by the survey, about the trade-off between ridership and coverage, is a key one, he said.

“Both are really major, important questions, and they speak to literally the finite amount of service that RTA has to work with, which has been steadily decreasing,” Singh said.

Singh also works with the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents RTA drivers, maintenance workers and other employees. He said he appreciated that RTA was asking big questions about its future. He said CPT wants to see the city of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County take a more active role with the agency.

“We’re trying to say really clearly that local leadership needs to be on funding fixed-route public service, and repairing the Red Line, replacing these cars, and not looking at gimmicks,” he said.

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.