Greater Cincinnati Steps Forward on Clean Transportation

Hamilton County residents passed transit funding in a historic vote-by-mail election in spring 2020.
SORTA Metro Bus on city street
By passing Issue 7 Hamilton County residents will increase funding for the Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA)
Credit: Matt’ Johnson, tracktwentynine/Flickr

Residents in Hamilton County, home to the City of Cincinnati and its surrounding metropolitan area, showed their commitment to cleaner, more reliable public transit by voting in favor of Issue 7 in an historic absentee voting election. The successful ballot measure will increase Hamilton County’s sales tax by 0.8%, which will be invested in the Southern Ohio Regional Transit System (SORTA) as well as in local infrastructure improvements.

NRDC is supporting the City of Cincinnati to achieve cleaner transportation through the Bloomberg Philanthropies American Cities Climate Challenge, an initiative to help 25 cities meet their Paris Climate commitments through improvements to their buildings and transportation systems.Transportation is now the largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S., with the majority of those emissions coming from passenger vehicles. Bus riders reduce their emissions by about a third compared to a car trip driven alone. Transit trips are one of the best ways for individuals to personally address climate change, however ridership levels and support for public transit remain low when there isn’t enough money to provide reliable, frequent service for the whole community. That’s why passage of Issue 7 was critical to increase funding for SORTA and much needed infrastructure improvements.

The passage of Issue 7 means that SORTA finally has the resources to start implementing its Reinventing Metro plan. This redesign includes four key aspects of transit that SORTA commits to improving: 

  • faster service with improved connections
  • increased frequency
  • extended service hours, and 
  • enhanced customer amenities. 

The objective of this plan is to create a more sustainable, economically healthier Hamilton County. A UC Economics Center Study shows that with SORTA’s funding, up until just yesterday, 75,000 healthcare and manufacturing jobs in Hamilton County were not readily accessible by public transit. A lack of transit access to jobs and services is a major factor in labor shortages and economic hardship. With Issue 7’s new funding package, however, Metro routes will get residents to new destinations, faster, and during expanded times.

Issue 7 would not have passed without the tireless advocacy of the individual transit riders and local organizations working everyday to see a brighter, more sustainable Greater Cincinnati. Some of the key players behind Issue 7 were Move Forward, CommEN Strategies, and NRDC's sister organization, NRDC Action Fund in support of the American Cities Climate Challenge.

As cities across the country grapple with the effects of the coronavirus, transit will take an incredibly hard hit. However, transit remains a critical means of connection for many frontline and essential workers. As we figure out how to return to a fully functioning economy and transportation system we will need continued federal, state, and local funding support. Thankfully, both the CARES Act and Issue 7 mean Greater Cincinnati’s transit system will be more equipped to provide safe, reliable service to those who need it most. With Issue 7’s adoption, Greater Cincinnati sets an example in the Midwest, and throughout the country, as a champion for cleaner transportation and accessible public transit.

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