Thursday, June 10, 2004

Luken 'alarmed' over bus money

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

DOWNTOWN - Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken said Wednesday he was "alarmed" to learn how the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority was spending some of the $38 million it receives each year from the city.

Luken's comments came as he asked City Council for a one-week delay on a vote to send the transit authority $9.3 million for operations.

The city provides SORTA with $37.3 million of its $73.5 million annual budget. The city disburses one-fourth of its money to the transit authority every three months.

Luken said he was upset to learn that SORTA spent more than $700,000 on advertising and $2 million on public relations and communications, while saying it might cut bus routes or raise fares.

"They are not accountable to anybody on a regular basis about how they spend taxpayers' money," Luken said. "They are spending money on commercials like that 'Wacky Wednesday' ad they had and doing Tai Chi on the bus. I just think this stuff is silly."

Sally Hilvers, a spokeswoman for SORTA, said those advertisements were paid for through a federal grant to promote clean air. Hilvers said SORTA spends about 1 percent of its gross operating budget on promotion and advertising each year to attract new riders.

"The more people we have on the buses paying fares, the less of a burden it is on taxpayers," Hilvers said. "So it is to everyone's advantage to see full buses."

The mayor said legally the city would have to release the money to SORTA before July 1. Council will likely revisit the issue next week.

"I'm not interested in making bus riders the hostage. Who will be served by that?" Luken said. "But this is the only leverage we have to begin a discussion about whether SORTA is spending this money to maximum benefit of the people who use the system."


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