COTA handed extra funding
$2.1 million allocation from MORPC to help transit authority cope with far bigger fuel bill
Friday, September 12, 2008 3:17 AM
By Tim Doulin
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Heeding the state’s call to help transit authorities, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission is allocating $2.1 million to COTA.
In a roundabout way, the federal money will allow the Central Ohio Transit Authority to deal with rising fuel costs, which have almost tripled since 2004.
“This helps mitigate the increased fuel costs that take funds away from other things that could have been done,” said William Lhota, COTA president and chief executive.
COTA is expected to spend about $8.7 million on diesel fuel this year, up from about $3 million in 2004.
At the same time, COTA’s ridership is about 10.7 million this year through the first week of September, up about 1 million, or about 10 percent, from the same period in 2007.
COTA says increased revenue at the fare box is not enough to offset the increase in fuel costs. Fares account for about 19 percent of the transit authority’s annual income.
Largely because of high gasoline prices, public transportation ridership is up across the state. At the same time, the high prices for fuel have hurt transit agencies.
“Their fuel costs are up, and a lot of them around the state have been faced with the prospect of cutting back on service or raising their fares,” said Bob Lawler, MORPC transportation director.
For example, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority is projecting a $20 million deficit in 2009 because of rising fuel prices and decreasing state funding. That has led the RTA to seek a 25-cent fare increase.
State money for public transit has declined dramatically, from $43.3 million in 2001 to $16.4 million in 2008.
After the Ohio Public Transit Association approached him this year, Gov. Ted Strickland asked MORPC and other metropolitan planning organizations across the state to help out transit authorities.
COTA finds itself in a better financial situation than most, largely because it started receiving new revenue this year from a sales-tax increase approved by voters in 2006. The transit authority’s budget is operating in the black, and COTA isn’t scheduled to increase fares until next year.
Still, COTA says it can use the money. The authority has been adding buses to its fleet and keeping them on the street longer each day to meet demand. It is working to train, hire and retain bus drivers.
Federal money from the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program cannot go directly to purchase fuel. Instead, the money will be earmarked to purchase about 25 fuel-efficient bus engines, and COTA will re-allocate capital-improvement money to purchase fuel.
A funding surplus and delays in other projects allowed MORPC to free up the money for COTA, MORPC said.
COTA Gets Gas Money
September 13, 2008 by John