Opinion: Transit levy will make us stronger (from the Cincinnati Enquirer)

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This opinion piece from Aharon, co-written with Jill Meyer, P.G. Sittenfeld, and Celeste Treece, originally was published in the Cincinnati Enquirer on August 19th, 2020. To view the original article, click here.

For the first time in history, the residents of Hamilton County voted to support public transit, infrastructure and the communities those services connect by passing Issue 7. This win is a ray of hope in the midst of the pandemic and is in line with the calls for racial justice and equality that our country must act on if we want to heal and become a more perfect union.

It is certainly true that public transit has been hard hit by a pandemic that has forced many to stay home and convinced others to avoid public spaces – including public transportation – as much as possible. However, increased funding provided by Issue 7 becomes much more vital as investments in public transit and infrastructure aid our region as we begin the long road to economic recovery.

As The Enquirer said in its editorial endorsing Issue 7, “It is a myth that public transportation is just a social program for poor people who don’t have cars. We need to view a healthy transportation system as vital to the economic health of our region.”

That remains as true now as it was before the pandemic’s impacts began to be felt. Cincinnati’s outdated public transportation system was hindering economic opportunity. Riders deal with lengthy and convoluted commutes, many workers simply can’t get to their workplace using public transit, and thousands of commuters worry about a hillside slippage or falling concrete as they traverse our roads and bridges.

Issue 7 will provide consistent funding to implement the Reinventing Metro plan that will ensure that buses run longer hours, arrive more frequently, and reach riders across the entire county.

This plan will enable public transit riders, 75% of whom are African American, to get where they’re going faster and more conveniently. This will enable residents in our communities – from Forest Park to Bond Hill and Westwood – to get to their jobs using public transportation, transforming the lives of so many people in our community for the better. With an expanded system that reaches more than just the urban core, business owners in Norwood, Sharonville and Blue Ash now have the opportunity to hire employees that had previously been inaccessible to them.

The passage of Issue 7 also provides a new revenue stream for much-needed infrastructure repair related to mass transit, including updates to roads and bridges that carry bus routes.

Improvements to the bus system give people time back in their day to spend with loved ones rather than waking early to start their trek across town several hours before their shift starts. It will mean fewer potholes and broken down bridges that puts fewer families one blown-out tire away from financial distress. This levy will change the lives of so many people in our community.

These changes will help Cincinnati, Hamilton County, and beyond to grow and come back from the pandemic stronger, with a system that makes our community more equitable.

The coalition that came together to support passage of Issue 7 was a wide array of community stakeholders who understand that investing in transportation means strengthening our region. It included transit riders who wanted a system that served them better, environmental groups invested in cleaner air and more sustainable transportation, and many local civic organizations who knew how long our community has needed to address this issue.

The business community invested deeply in this effort because local business leaders know that a strong public transportation system is the key to the Cincinnati region’s economic health, now and into the future.

Absolutely nothing seems normal or right as we deal with disease, economic distress, and a much-needed reckoning with racial inequity. Amidst all of it, however, our investment in a transit system that meets the needs of our community will help us emerge stronger with every resident having more access to build greater prosperity.

Aharon Brown is a member of Forest Park City Council. Jill P. Meyer is president and CEO of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber. P.G. Sittenfeld is a member of Cincinnati City Council. Celeste Treece is the director of government relations for CommEN Strategies.