A Look Back, a Look Ahead
Mike Setzer leaves Metro Transit with 2,600 employees, 132 bus routes delivering 67 million trips per year and, soon, one commuter rail line. He will, for the second time in 11 years, take over the SORTA Metro system, which in all respects is about a third as large. Here he reflects on his experience in Minneapolis and the task ahead.
“There are monumental differences between the Cincinnati situation and the Twin Cities'. SORTA is essentially a city transit system whose funding structure requires that suburban service pay for itself. Cincinnati Metro thus is virtually unconnected to State government. No state appropriations, but then no state legislature to deal with either.
“My take from Metro Transit is that a success in transit needs to have two things, a dependable source of operating funds and a superb daily operation. Metro Transit puts the most courteous, professional group of operators on the street each day behind the wheel of one of the best fleets anywhere. It was that way when I got here—I take no credit for that. But nonetheless, ridership has fallen, service has been cut and fares have been increased. Now, about those appropriations . . . .
"Moving on, I am convinced that public-private partnerships have great potential. In Cincinnati, we are just beginning to look at some opportunities to partner. When a significant element of the transportation market understands its stake in the transit system's design and performance and wants to get actively involved, you can get some dynamic interplay that rises above routine.
“For instance, in Cincinnati there is a sprawling suburb that now wants to grow into a real ‘place’ by developing a unifying identity, some community building amenities, and some logic in how people move into and within the township. Their first big investment? A transit center and park-ride facility. But it is also integrated into new retail investment as well as other public infrastructure investment.
“I only wish I could package the broad understanding of transit's role
in the regional economy that I find in the Twin Cities, especially among private sector thought leaders, and splice it into the public policy debate in Ohio. Maybe soon.”