RTA 'Stretched Incredibly Thin,' Says Transit Redesign Expert

An RTA bus drives through downtown Cleveland in 2017.
An RTA bus drives through downtown Cleveland in 2017. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
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A national transit expert hired by the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority said the system and its riders must make tough choices between widespread bus coverage and frequent service in busy places.

Jarrett Walker addressed RTA’s board and the public Tuesday afternoon. Walker and RTA are gathering public input on that question and plan to come up with possible service maps over the course of the year. The idea is to focus the agency’s limited resources.

“I think the immediate issue is not so much just the ridership trend, but the larger problem that the RTA service is just stretched incredibly thin,” Walker told reporters after the meeting. “It isn’t really able to be very satisfactory to much of anyone because it is simply being asked to do too many things with too small a budget.”

Walker and his firm have helped numerous other transit agencies—including Columbus and Houston—redesign their bus systems. While some systems are able to cut inefficient routes, Walker said RTA doesn’t appear to have much “obvious waste” in its bus map.

“You’ve gone through some cuts, and your planners have been looking hard for waste for a long time, and I don’t think there’s much left,” he said.

RTA and Walker are asking riders to take an online survey about their priorities. The agency has received 1,400 responses so far, interim CEO Floun’say Caver said. The online portion of the survey ends March 17.

In the spring, Walker said, his team and RTA will gather public input on two possible bus service models, one that prioritizes geographic coverage and one that focuses on dense areas with high ridership.

Walker said he won’t tell RTA which path to take.  

“I am a consultant who aspires never to make a recommendation,” he said. “I want to set up a clear conversation where the community can think about the trade-off.”

This summer, he said, the public will be given two more maps to consider. One will show what RTA could do with more money—the other, what RTA would have to do with less revenue. Walker said he will make a final presentation to the board in October.

The transit agency is in the midst of a strategic planning process, and the board has discussed whether to ask voters for more money. In addition to the bus system redesign, studies will examine RTA’s rail cars, fares, economic impact and finances.

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