Monday, July 22, 2002

Bus ads blasted by Luken

Says they're just paving way for higher tax rate

By Gregory Korte,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken says he will oppose any tax increase for the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority as long as the bus system continues to use city taxpayer money to promote its “Metro Moves” advertising campaign.

        The $280,000 campaign, launched earlier this month, touts the Metro system's new 30-year plan for commuter rail service, transit hubs and expanded bus routes.

        The transit authority is considering asking for a sales tax increase this fall to pay for the plan. Mr. Luken thinks the ad campaign is an attempt to build Metro's image and persuade Hamilton County voters to approve the tax hike.

        A radio ad features the adventures of superhero Max Capacity, a transportation planner, and his sidekick, General Manager Man. Together, they help solve the region's transportation woes. The ad directs listeners to Metro's Web site for more information.

        “And what's the point?” Mr. Luken said. “I'm still completely lost about how they can use tax money for this purpose. I don't care if it's $10 or $1 million. It's a PR campaign designed to boost their public image for their tax levy. They know it. I know it.”

    Script of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority's “Max Capacity” radio ad:
   First announcer: Time once again for: Max Capacity, Public Transit Administrator...In last week's episode, using his 20/20 vision, Max saw that traffic in the Tristate was congested, intensifying.
   So, leaping into action, he amassed public input and devised a rock 'em-sock 'em plan for regional public transit, called Metro Move Now, Max is ready to put that plan into action.
   Ready to expand nearly every aspect of transit operations. Ready to bulk up Metro's fleet, to ramp up light rail, to vitalize suburb-to-suburb connections.
   Meanwhile, Max's trusted sidekick, General Manager Man, is out building a network of transit hubs, extending service to new neighborhoods, and energizing community shuttles.
   Let's join Max Capacity now in his cubicle sanctorum, as he boldly arranges a critical conference call ...
   Second announcer: Today more than ever, Metro is the practical solution to the region's traffic problems and your individual travel needs.
   Discover what Metro can do for you. Visit for details.
        Mr. Luken expressed his concern last week in a letter to SORTA's general manager, Paul Jablonski.“The monies collected from our earnings tax are valuable and should be spent with the utmost caution. In no way should they be used to fund a political campaign or even the beginnings of such a campaign,” Mr. Luken said.

        Mr. Jablonski did not return several phone calls to his home and office last week. SORTA Board Chairman Peter D. Gomsak Jr. also could not be reached for comment.

        A spokeswoman, Sallie Hilvers, said SORTA's nine-member board has made no decision about a tax hike, although a sales tax increase of 0.25 percent or more is being discussed for the November ballot.

        But she said the radio and television ads are intended to inform the public about the plan and to gather input.

        “You have to cut through the clutter and capture people's attention to even get them to think about what's going on,” Ms. Hilvers said. “We consider it educational, and not promotional. At this point, we're not sure if the board is going to move forward with a tax increase. We think people need to know more about the plan before they can comment on it.”

        Since 1973, the transit authority has relied on a 0.3 percent tax, part of the city's earnings tax. The tax raises $30.3 million and provides 54 percent of SORTA's budget.

        SORTA spends about $730,000 a year on advertising.

        Northlich, a public relations and advertising firm, developed the Metro Moves campaign at a cost of $80,000. Radio and television time cost another $200,000.


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