Posts by Author: Rachel Kaufman

LA Metro to Build Boarding School to Train Workers of Tomorrow

Union Station, Los Angeles. (Credit: Omar Bárcena/Flickr)

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority sees a rosy future ahead, according to the State of the Agency address delivered by Metro CEO Phillip A. Washington, outgoing Metro chair and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and incoming Metro chair Sheila Kuehl.

MyNewsLA said the three speakers “outlined a vision where Metro will not just improve transportation but also help the county make headway in the areas of education, housing and homelessness.”

Significant to these efforts is Measure M, a sales tax approved by voters in 2016 that is expected to generate $120 billion in funding over 40 years.

In his address, Garcetti called the measure “the largest infrastructure initiative in this country’s history, times two….We must show the public that their tax dollars…[are] indeed well spent.”

Metro oversees subways, trains, bus lines, freeway express lanes, a bikeshare system and a series of vanpools. The agency is undertaking a number of ambitious projects, including extending the city’s Purple Line, overhauling its bus network and converting its entire bus fleet to zero emissions by 2030.

Metro CEO Washington unveiled a five-point plan for the agency, Metro said in a press release. The first point addresses the need to implement “high-quality options that enable people to spend less time traveling.”

The second goal is to enhance the rider experience. Metro is planning to provide free wifi and charging stations at Metro rail stations.

Third, Washington wants the agency to embrace equity. Incoming Metro chair Kuehl discussed her plans to work with Metro’s Women and Girls Council to train and hire more women for career positions at the agency. Washington also spoke to the push to fold equity into the agency’s long-range transportation plan so that the development of new transit options “help the indigenous people of a neighborhood to thrive,” the release said.

Fourth, Metro is working to provide more opportunities for people to move into transportation jobs. It’s a critical time for the agency, with some 30 percent of its workforce eligible for retirement in the next few years and a potential labor shortage looming. Indeed, LA Metro and LA County announced earlier this week that they will partner to create Transportation School, a boarding school that teaches high-school students STEAM skills with the hope of preparing them for careers in college or the transportation industry.

Finally, Washington said that transportation is a “socio-economic enabler” that may not be able to control affordable housing and homelessness, but can influence others. “We can influence the affordable housing issue, we can influence homelessness…if we step into these leadership voids,” he said. He added that Metro wants to create or attract a rail-car manufacturing company in Los Angeles County to create jobs and produce cars locally. He said Metro is taking the first steps toward doing so by convening a roundtable with the railcar industry.


Uber Will Pay Drivers in Pilot Cities to Use Electric Vehicles

Uber is expanding a pilot project to incentivize its drivers to switch to electric cars, Fortune reports.

“We see the writing on the wall,” Adam Gromis, Uber’s head of sustainability, told the Los Angeles Times.

The EV Champions Initiative, announced Tuesday, is a yearlong pilot being tested in seven North American cities: Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, San Francisco, Seattle, Austin and Montreal. The incentives offered are different in each market, the LA Times notes; drivers in San Diego and San Francisco will receive a bonus $1 per ride for using plug-in hybrids or full electric vehicles, up to $20 per week. Same in Pittsburgh, which was part of an earlier, smaller pilot. Sacramento drivers can earn up to $1.50 per ride, Government Technology reported, through an Uber partnership with the Sacramento Municipal Utiliites District. The utility pays $1.25 and Uber $.25 for each trip, the Sacramento Bee reports.

In other cities, Uber said, it will work to educate drivers on the “myriad of State programs and incentives [to purchase an electric car] available as well as local programs provided by utilities and cities that are less widely known” than the federal EV tax credit, which is currently $7,500 but may be cut by 2019 or 2020, the Chicago Tribune reported in April. In Los Angeles, for example, where drivers do not receive extra compensation through the EV Champions program, Uber will provide drivers with information on a range of EV resources, including a clean-fuel rebate offered by Southern California Edison, HOV-lane access and Los Angeles–specific rebates on electric charger installation.

The incentives are “more for part-time drivers who are thinking of signing up for Uber than full-timers who want to recoup the cost of their car,” Engadget says. But in the long run it “might influence an Uber driver’s buying decision if an EV is in their price range.”

The pilot program also includes changes to the Uber app that will alert riders when they’re paired with an EV driver, and giving EV drivers a head’s up when a rider’s trip is expected to last 30 minutes or longer, so that drivers can charge up sufficiently.

Competitor Lyft has said that by 2025, it will provide 1 billion rides per year using autonomous EVs, and in April, it announced that it is offsetting the carbon dioxide produced by all of its rides worldwide by purchasing carbon credits from startup 3Degrees.

Uber is making further moves to “facilitate access to more sustainable transportation,” the company told Interesting Engineering. In April, Uber bought dockless electric bike company JUMP and has announced various partnerships with transit agencies focused on first-last-mile transportation.

“Unless we can be delivering a more efficient form of mobility, we won’t be providing a good solution that cities need,” Uber’s Gromis told the LA Times. “That’s why we’ve gone into bikes. That’s why we’re working with transit. That’s why we’re focused on electrification.”


Portland Deploys Data-Tracking Traffic Sensors to Save Lives

Portland to deploy 200 "smart" traffic censors in efforts to make streets safer. (Credit: Yuri Zhuck/Flickr)

Portland, Oregon, has unveiled a network of “smartphones for municipalities” that will track cars, pedestrians and bikes on some of Portland’s most dangerous streets in an effort to improve safety, Fortune reports.

The city, in partnership with AT&T, Intel and Current by GE, is deploying 200 traffic sensors on street lights along three “high-crash corridors,” the Oregonian reports. The sensors will give city staff accurate information on the number of cars, bikes and pedestrians using a road, what they are doing and how fast they are going. The city expects to collect data for 18 months, according to the Oregonian.

The sensors will replace the old method of data-gathering, which until now has been laboriously collected by volunteers and intermittent traffic surveys, the Oregonian says.

“Portland is leading the country in this important data effort,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said at a press conference, according to Tech Republic. “We are at the forefront of using advanced technology to make our cities safer for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers, helping people more easily get around, save time and reduce the possibility of crashes. This pilot is a significant step in acquiring and utilizing data to make critical decisions.”

Portland leaders hope that the traffic data will provide information to help achieve the city’s Vision Zero plan, which calls for eliminating traffic fatalities by 2025. As of last week, the Oregonian wrote, 17 people had died on Portland streets so far this year. The three streets selected, 122nd Avenue between Burnside and Duke streets, Southeast Division between 11th and 122nd avenues, and Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard between 11th and 46th avenues, were chosen from a group of 30 that make up 8 percent of the city’s streets but account for half of its traffic fatalities, reports StateScoop.

Dylan Rivera, a spokesman for the city’s transportation department, told the publication that “we’re hopeful we’ll get the kind of information and data that can help our planners and engineers make better decisions that help save lives.”

The sensors will also help the city study how efficiently its street parking is being used.

Privacy concerns about the new devices have been “well-addressed” by the project’s private sector partners, Mayor Wheeler told ZDNet. No video is uploaded anywhere — the sensors use computer-vision software onboard to identify objects, and then pass that data on, Fortune reports. The system is also configured to ignore personally identifying information. That means no facial recognition software or license plate identification, for example. The devices are able to store up to seven days of video onboard.

The $1 million sensor project is part of the city’s Smart City PDX plan. The city council will vote on the Smart City PDX Priorities Framework Thursday. The rest of the plan, says StateScoop, “hits many of the other familiar smart-city beats, including air-quality sensors, open-data platforms and guidelines for autonomous vehicles.”


D.C. Vote Ends Tipped Wage System, for Now

Tico Restaurant, Washington, D.C. (Credit: Cliff Burns/Flickr)

D.C. voters approved a ballot initiative to end the two-tiered wage system for tipped workers Tuesday.

The Washington Business Journal reports that Initiative 77 passed 55 to 45 percent in the low-turnout primary election. If it is enacted into law (the measure can be amended by the D.C. Council, then must be sent to Congress for review, as with all District laws), tipped workers at restaurants and in other industries must receive the full minimum wage from their employer, rather than being legally allowed to make some of their wages in tips.

Currently, the tipped minimum wage in the District is $3.33, and the non-tipped minimum wage is $12.50, set to rise to $15 by 2020. Tipped workers at restaurants are paid $3.33 an hour by their employer, and if they do not make at least $12.50 an hour after including tips, the employer must make up the difference. After Initiative 77 becomes law, tipped workers will instead see gradual raises in the tipped minimum wage until it reaches $15 by 2025, Vox reports; by 2026, the minimum wage will be the same for all workers.

“Having employers pay their workers is the right thing to do,” Diana Ramirez, director of the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) of D.C., told the Associated Press after the vote. Restaurant Opportunities Center United, based in New York, advocates for workers’ rights and helped get the initiative on the ballot.

But many restaurant workers openly opposed the initiative, saying that the higher costs to restaurant owners might put many of them out of business (and workers out of jobs). They also argued that higher costs passed on to consumers might reduce tipping from diners. According to data on state-by-state tip rates from credit-card processor Square, customers in D.C. are already the second-stingiest tippers in the nation, second only to Hawaii. It was the fear of reduced tips that led restaurant employees in Hawaii to ask the state legislature to reverse a similar referendum that would have ended the tip credit there.

The Restaurant Opportunities Center says those fears are overblown. Seven states have already eliminated the tipped sub-minimum wage, and recent research, Vox says, shows that restaurant workers in those states have benefitted. Tipped workers in states with a tip credit experience poverty at twice the rate of nontipped workers, according to Yannet Lathrop, a policy analyst with the National Employment Law Project, speaking to Vox. ROC and others, such as now-defeated council chair candidate Ed Lazere, say that a big incentive behind the initiative is to support “immigrants and people of color who may not know their rights,” exactly the same demographic who might refrain from speaking up because of fears of retaliation or language-barrier issues.

ROC calls the current system, where employers are required to make up the difference when a worker does not make minimum wage with their base wage plus tips, “largely unenforceable,” reports the Washington City Paper, pointing to a two-year U.S. Department of Labor study in 2012 that looked at nearly 9,000 investigations at full-service restaurants nationwide and found an 84 percent noncompliance rate with wage laws.

In D.C., however, it was hard to find tipped workers who supported the measure, said the City Paper; some even pinned “Save Our Tips” buttons to their uniforms and work clothes in the days before the vote.

For now, no one is exactly sure how things will play out in the District. The majority of the D.C. Council is against the initiative, as is Mayor Muriel Bowser, the Washingtonian reports. The D.C. Council could simply reverse the voters’ decision, and the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington plans to “immediately begin discussions with District elected officials” to do just that, the City Paper reports. What’s clear is that this is not the end of the road for the issue.


NYC Mobility Report Shows Rise in Ride-Hail, Decline in Subway Ridership

A NYC 2018 Mobility Report map tracking the change in travel speeds on bus routes between 2015 and 2017. (Credit: NYC DOT)

New York City’s department of transportation released its first Mobility Report since 2016, “and the topline numbers scream for congestion pricing,” Streetsblog NYC writes.

Indeed, the data show that average car and bus speeds have fallen, with the average city bus poking along at 7.44 miles an hour in 2017. Most buses have gotten slower since 2015, the report said.

To blame? Traffic, likely from the uptick in ride-hailing services like Uber and an increase in personal vehicle purchases. The report didn’t explicitly lay the blame on Uber and its ilk for increased congestion, but noted that the city saw 92.5 million trips in 2016, an all-time high. The city has added 44,000 for-hire vehicle registrations — which includes taxis, black cars, green cabs and private cab companies — since 2010, and household vehicle registrations are up 8.3 percent since 2010, leading to a small increase in per-capita car ownership. The report also noted that the city population has increased 4 percent since 2010 and continues to rise, another factor propelling travel demand. Overall, New York remains a car-light city, but the growth pattern “is in contrast to [the city’s] previous period of [population] growth, when per-capita car ownership actually declined as the population increased.”

New this year is a Citywide Mobility Survey administered online and by phone to thousands of New Yorkers across all five boroughs, the report said. The 40-question survey will be repeated annually to allow the DOT to track individual mobility choices and how they change from year to year.

The survey turned up some interesting data:

More than a third (35 percent) of New Yorkers use ride-hailing services, and a full half of people who do use ride-share say that it’s replacing transit (versus walking, driving a private vehicle or taking a taxi). Survey respondents are also low users of car-sharing services, such as Zipcar or car2go; only 8 percent of respondents said they had a membership in one of those services. Overall, the city still gets around overwhelmingly by private vehicle, walking, or taking the subway, with the number of trips taken by those modes clocking in at 32, 28 and 23 percent, respectively. For residents of all boroughs except Staten Island, more than half of trips taken are through “sustainable modes”: walking, biking, or transit.

The report also looked at the effects of the Second Avenue subway on travel in the area since its launch in early 2017. Notably, yellow-cab trips dropped precipitously on the Upper East Side (36 percent since 2015), and ride-hail pickups increased more slowly there than they did citywide. Auto traffic speeds increased as well, the DOT reported.

Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told WCBS Newsradio that “the trends we’re seeing tell us how much we have to keep innovating and experimenting to keep the city moving.”


Denver Paving Way for E-Scooter Legalization

User logging into app to operate a motorized scooter. (Credit: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Dockless bikes and scooters may soon be returning to Denver streets after the city’s public works agency said it was devising a set of regulations to allow the companies back, Streetsblog Denver reports.

Both LimeBike and Bird launched in the Mile High City in late May, but on June 1 were ordered to remove their vehicles from city streets, Next City reported earlier this month.

Denver Public Works spokesperson Nancy Kuhn told Streetsblog that the details of the pilot program would be “determined in the coming weeks,” but that companies will be able to apply for permits starting June 29.

DPW will “develop a pilot program that would allow for the operation of dockless mobility technology in Denver (including but not limited to dockless bicycles and e-scooters) in a way that respects our public spaces and meets Denver’s mobility goals, as outlined in the city’s Mobility Action Plan,” Kuhn told Streetsblog.

Streetsblog predicts that Denver will impose operating fees on the companies (the average fees in cities that have implemented them so far is $10–$15 per vehicle), cap the number of scooters and bikes that can be on the streets, and require companies to share trip data with the city.

Unlike in some other cities, DPW has said that the scooters are not allowed to be operated in the roadway “except to cross the street at an intersection,” nor on bike lanes, trails, or parks. That seems to leave sidewalks as the only legal public space in which to ride the scooters, although it is unclear if this regulation will be changed as well for the pilot program.

Dockless scooter company Bird’s own safety rules tell riders to use bike lanes or the street, not sidewalks, but they also say to “follow all local traffic rules.”

The dockless scooters have had a rough go the last few months. San Francisco is working out rules for dockless scooter-share after it ordered companies to get their vehicles temporarily off the streets in early June, with decisions on which companies will be allowed to continue operations in the city due by the end of the month. Only five citywide permits will be granted for the app-enabled scooter rentals, according to Curbed San Francisco, and among those applying for permits are mega ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft, both angling to get into the scooter game there and elsewhere.

The city of Honolulu had a brief run with scooters, reports Hawaii News Now, with LimeBike launching in May, then ordered to cease operations a week later.

San Diego, the Union-Tribune reports, is about the only major city in California that has not attempted to regulate the fledgling industry, even as residents complain that unregulated scooters are a public health hazard.

“It’s the wild west at this point,” Marco Li Mandri, chief executive administrator of the Little Italy Association of San Diego, told the paper.

In January, one San Diego council member asked the mayor to draft rules to govern how scooter companies operate, but officials responded in February that they had no intention of recommending regulations. Now, another council member, Barbara Bry, has announced that she will spearhead efforts to put rules in place, such as imposing fees on the scooter companies to pay for “ensuring public safety,” reports the Union-Tribune.

“Have you been to Mission Beach? It’s nuts,” Bry told the paper. “The police have stepped up their reinforcement, but it’s not a good use of their time.”


LA Skid Row Activists Call for Inclusionary Growth Policies

(Credit: Los Angeles Poverty Department)

Advocates for the very poor living on Los Angeles’s Skid Row said Friday they fear that a city plan to support growth in downtown L.A. will threaten thousands of people who call the area home, the LA Times reports.

Los Angeles has been updating two community plans to devise and implement a growth strategy for the city’s rapidly changing downtown. Collectively called DTLA 2040, the plans project that 125,000 people will move to the area by the year 2040; the area aims to add some 70,000 units of housing to accommodate that growth.

The Skid Row portion of the draft plan, the Times says, would rezone industrial property along three streets running east-west to allow market-rate housing, while building permanent supportive housing and space for social services on the north-south streets.

A coalition of Skid Row groups, at a press conference Friday, said that the rezoning would “open the floodgates to high-end luxury housing,” driving up rents and leading to the eviction of 4,800 people living in low-cost housing like single-room occupancies, reports the Times, and that the plans also “disregard the fate” of the 2,100 people who live on the neighborhood streets.

Calling themselves Skid Row Now and 2040, the coalition released a report asking that the city enact a mandatory inclusionary zoning policy in the neighborhood, set a no-net-loss policy to ensure that units are replaced with similarly priced options, and set fees on developers to subsidize rents for Skid Row residents, with the goal of adding 7,000 units of housing for very-low-income residents. The group also wants a vacancy tax to discourage speculation.

“We need to get everybody off the street and that should happen before building buildings that will overwhelm [Skid Row] with the voice of money and power…making people uncomfortable in their own neighborhood,” John Malpede, founding artistic director of the Los Angeles Poverty Department theater group, part of Skid Row Now and 2040, said at the press conference, according to the Times.

“Skid Row remains a rare pocket of affordability that may no longer exist if high-end housing sweeps across the neighborhood,” the groups wrote in the report, adding that DTLA 2040’s plan does not account for “what will happen to the thousands of homeless people once Skid Row is redeveloped…the city fails to distinguish between land use policies that might address this humanitarian crisis zone and the very different planning needs of affluent commercial districts surrounding it.”

The department of city planning told ABC7 that the plan is still in the concept phase and that the needs of Skid Row residents will be considered.

“It is focused on trying to preserve the existing network of affordable housing, social services and making sure that can continue to exist and grow,” senior city planner Patricia Diefenderfer said.

City Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents downtown L.A., told the LA Times that he welcomed the ideas from Skid Row Now and 2040 and supported creating 7,000 units of housing.

“For too long we allowed a policy of containment that has created the largest concentration of homelessness in the nation,” Huizar said in a statement provided to the Times. “We must envision a more mixed-income environment for all our neighborhoods, and that also means incorporating more affordable housing into the rest of downtown, too.”

Skid Row advocates say building more housing is a start, but not enough.

Inner City Law Center director Jerry Jones, who authored the Skid Row Now and 2040 report, told the LA Times that without the other policy changes and safeguards against housing displacement, “we will stop this plan dead in its tracks.”


Boston Joins Other Cities in Limiting Airbnb Rentals

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh signed an ordinance Friday that limits how homeowners can list their properties on platforms such as Airbnb, the Boston Herald reports.

The ordinance, first proposed by the mayor in January, allows homeowners to rent out rooms or a whole home that they live in, or adjacent units in two- or three-family buildings. It bans the listing of “investor units,” homes rented by people who do not live on or near the property.

All owners wanting to list a property on Airbnb will need to register with the city and pay permit fees between $25 and $200, the Herald said.

Airbnb said in a statement last week that it believed the concerns of its hosts were “not heard.

“The new ordinance unfortunately creates a system that violates the privacy of our hosts, and prevents Boston families from making much-needed extra income in one of the country’s most expensive cities,” the statement read.

But as Next City reported in January, housing advocates inside and outside of City Hall maintain that Airbnb and other short-term rental platforms were contributing to the city’s rising housing costs and gentrification. A report by Community Labor United found that 12 percent of Airbnb operators earn 45 percent of the revenue generated, which implies that some hosts own many units. A report produced by the mayor’s office, based on scraping short-term rental sites, estimated that of the 5,500 active listings in the city, 2,000 were “investor units.” Chris English, a policy analyst with the mayor’s office, said they found “power hosts” with dozens of listings and some with as many as 100 listings. The average unit is rented 230 nights per year.

Boston’s Chinatown is a small neighborhood that has been “deeply impacted by gentrification and displacement,” Karen Chen, Chinese Progressive Association’s executive director, told Next City in January. “We’ve been seeing a lot of whole units and whole buildings turned into short rentals that used to house long term residents. People who lived in Chinatown for many years and relied on doctors and social services here are being displaced.”

The mayor’s original proposal, as Next City previously reported, allowed investor units to be rented for up to 90 days a year. That portion of the ordinance was nixed as the rule made its way through the legislative process.

The most notable change, WBUR reports, is that people in two- and three-family homes can rent out their adjacent unit for a full year. (There are no caps on the number of days other types of rentals can be offered, either, according to the most recent version of the bill.)

New Orleans also moved to legitimize Airbnb rentals, but a year after instituting rules governing how homes could be rented on the short-term market, the city council adopted a widespread moratorium on new licenses, a move hailed by housing advocates who said that short-term rentals were driving up rents in that city as well. The New Orleans Gambit reports that Airbnb retaliated by removing city license numbers from its New Orleans listings, making it more difficult for the city to enforce its ordinance, and by deleting a feature from its website that allowed new hosts to automatically apply for a city license, the Times-Picayune reported.


Philadelphia Opens First Phase of Long-Awaited Rail Park

Map showing planned phases of the Rail Park. (Credit: Friends of the Rail Park)

Philadelphia officials cut the ribbon on the first phase of its elevated Rail Park, a quarter-mile of public green space in downtown Philadelphia, on Thursday.

The park — a rails-to-trails project similar to New York’s High Line, but (planned to be) twice its length and width, Friends of the Rail Park notes — runs along the Reading Viaduct rail line, which was built in the 1890s, Curbed Philly reports. Plans for the park kicked off in 2010, but groundbreaking had to wait until 2016. Since then, the opening date has been pushed back several times, most recently because a 130-year-old pedestrian bridge slated to serve as the main gateway to the park was found to be corroded and unsafe.

Officials finally opened the first phase of the park Thursday. When the entire park is complete, it will be a three-mile greenway stretching 20 blocks along the Schuylkill and through the Callowhill neighborhood.

Callowhill, once a blighted part of the city, is undergoing a building boom, and the park is likely to attract more investment. “It will serve as a stimulus for residential and commercial development,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said Thursday, according to Curbed.

That sits fine with many residents. As the news site BillyPenn reports, much of the development is not coming in the form of replacements for old housing (and long-time residents) with new, but instead targets the area’s vacant lots.

With the park’s opening, “there’s going to be an uptick probably in property values around it,” Dr. Jeffrey Doshna, a professor of city, transportation and regional planning at Temple, told BillyPenn. “But property values in that neighborhood were very low to begin with. So some increase in value…some reinvestment in the neighborhood is good.”

Pennsylvania’s Department of Community & Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin said that the park might attract businesses, among them “one that begins with ‘A’,” Davin said, according to Curbed, making a not-so-oblique reference to Amazon and Philadelphia’s place on Amazon’s HQ2 shortlist. (Separately, Philly’s city council added an exemption for all “Keystone Opportunity Zones” from a proposed 1% tax on construction, which includes the three sites the city pitched Amazon, the Inquirer reported Thursday.)

The park is seeded with 11 types of trees and 1,000 plants, primarily native grasses, shrubs, and a few flowering plants to fit naturally into its surroundings, the Philly Inquirer noted. It also offers swings, public art, and 360-degree views of the city.

There’s no official timeline for the construction and opening of the rest of the park.


Cincy Group Launches Bus Stop Beautification Program with DIY Benches

Mark Samaan and Cam Hardy of Cincy's Better Bus Coalition show off a new bus stop bench. (Credit: Better Bus Coalition)

It’s a common phenomenon in cities all over the country: bus stops with nowhere for people to sit while they wait.

In Cincinnati, a grassroots group of transit activists, the Better Bus Coalition, is tackling the problem with a DIY bench made from $30 in materials. Two Better Bus Coalition members built the benches themselves at one member’s wood shop.

“We have identified, through our research, numerous bus stops that are heavily used where there is no place for anyone to sit,” Coalition President Cam Hardy told the Cincinnati CityBeat. “I think of my great grandmother, who rides the bus. There is no place for her to sit after she’s grocery shopped all day.”

In addition to putting down benches, the Coalition also wants to ensure that bus stops are clean, Hardy said. “The only way that we’re going to attract new ridership is if these stops look presentable to people,” he told CityBeat. “We’re letting people know that there are people out here who care about them.”

The bus-stop beautification initiative “is one part of a larger campaign the group is taking on to highlight funding shortfalls for Metro,” CityBeat reports. The Coalition is also pushing for dedicated bus lanes during rush hour in downtown Cincinnati, WCPO reports, as well as tap card payment and more bus shelters.

It’s also endorsing a 1-cent countywide sales tax to help support the regional bus system, the Cincinnati Inquirer reports. Currently, the funding model for the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) relies on a .3 percent city earnings tax. Switching to sales tax would include taxpayers in Hamilton County, not just Cincinnati proper, in funding the bus system.

SORTA’s board will vote June 20 on whether to put a tax question on the November ballot, and how much to ask. A half-cent tax hike, CityBeat wrote, would address multimillion-dollar budget shortfalls but otherwise maintain the status quo, and a 1-cent raise “could dramatically improve transit throughout the region.” The current mayor, John Cranley, supports a half-cent raise; the president of the Hamilton County Commission doesn’t support any tax hike. The Cincinnati Charter Committee, which is sometimes called Cincy’s third party, endorsed a .9 percent county sales tax on Tuesday.

“We believe .9 is a really good number,” Coalition president Hardy told CityBeat. “We’re really working to raise awareness around the fact that .5 won’t be enough. We need significant investment and we need it now.”

So far, the Better Bus Coalition has installed nine benches and is raising funding for more. The Coalition says it’s received a “flood” of requests for more benches, and has even asked bus drivers to help suggest where the benches should be placed.


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