Ohio needs more readily available and convenient public transportation, and that should be a given. We have the 7th highest population out of any state in the Union and we’re the 10th most densely populated, according to US census data. Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus are all major urban centers, with the latter being the 15th biggest city in the entire country. It’s just common sense to expect that our politicians can meet their residents’ needs and provide us with alternative transportation choices like rail systems, more bike lanes and better pedestrian infrastructure.
Unfortunately, expecting common sense out of our politicians is a bit of a stretch. Just this year, the state’s GRF (General Revenue Fund) provided only $10.1 million for public transportation, according to Policy Matters Ohio. This is the exact same amount of money allocated in both 2012 and 2013. Meanwhile, the Ohio Department of Transportation’s own website brags that the department “is embarking on a $2.5 billion construction season – the largest ever.”
It’s a discrepancy which culminated in Cleveland’s proposed “Opportunity Corridor,” a $331 million project described by senior Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) researcher Phineas Baxandall as a “boondoggle.” Baxandall points out that traffic in Cleveland rose all of .3 percent from 2000 to 2013, for an annual average of .02 percent. While public transportation investment remains stagnant, we’re seeing massive increases in highway expansion spending that are unnecessary to the point of being wasteful.
Consumer demand for public transportation is not as stagnant as upticks in Cleveland’s traffic, particularly when generational differences are accounted for. Last month, Ohio PIRG released a report finding that Millennials are 13 percent less likely to commute to work or school via car than Generation X. Compared to the Baby Boomers, that number increases to 15 percent. 62 percent of Millennials consider driving in their own car to be their preferred mode of transportation, opposed to 81 percent of older generations. Furthermore, the Pew Research Center found that 38 percent of 18 to 29 year-olds prefer to live in cities, as opposed to 24 percent of all age groups across the board.
This is important because the Millennial Generation will be the largest generation in the American workforce by 2015. Meeting the generation’s consumer demand is absolutely vital for keeping Ohio’s best and brightest young minds within the state – as it is, Columbus is the biggest city in the country without any form of rail transit. Failing to meet young peoples’ needs means we risk losing a large number of incredibly creative, hard-working young people. And consumer demand isn’t just high for one generation – the American Public Transit Association found that last year saw the highest public transit ridership in 57 years across the entire nation.
Thankfully, there’s hope. Earlier in the year, Ohio PIRG also found that universities are offering more options in allowing transportation options to their students nationwide, including discounted access to local transit systems and bikeshare programs. And Ohio’s universities are doing their part: in 2010, Kent State University implemented “Flashfleet,” a free bikeshare program which now sees over 8,000 checkouts a year from almost 1,500 unique renters.Just earlier this month, a working group of Ohio State University students presented their unique research on adopting a fixed-rail system in Columbus to a 14-member working group assembled by the mayor’s office.
In both the university system and the state at large, we’re seeing people from all walks of life demand more convenience and availability in the ways they get around. Their voices our loud and clear, and the only question at hand is whether or not our elected leaders will listen. That’s a question of common sense, and it’s one that only they can answer.
Ohio Public Interest Research Group (PIRG)