The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority will put a levy on the ballot next year to shore up funding for the struggling Metro system.

Transit board appointment prompts City Council debate: What makes someone a 'bus rider'?

Riders calling for more representation on board

CINCINNATI -- More debate came out of City Council Wednesday as members and the mayor discussed who should fill the next vacant seat on the transit authority board.

The debate wasn't over the appointee himself -- Roderick Hinton, who handily won the appointment in an 8-1 vote -- but instead over what makes someone a "regular bus rider," and the transit user's role on the board.

As with his failed nomination of Rayshon Mack, Mayor John Cranley touted Hinton as another attempt to answer his colleagues' and bus riders' call to put more transit users on the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority's Board of Trustees. The board acts as the governing body for the transit agency, which owns and operates Cincinnati Metro bus service.

"Rod Hinton is someone who grew up riding the bus, the 78 in Lincoln Heights," Cranley opened the discussion.

Council member Tamaya Dennard voted to approve Hinton's appointment, but did so with a preface: "The bus is different than it was 20 years ago," she said. "So, someone riding the bus in the past doesn't necessarily make them a good SORTA board member. What I am saying is that it's different."

"I think there needs to be a little bit of nimbleness in how that's defined," said Council member P.G. Sittenfeld during Wednesday's discussion. "I grew up occasionally taking the 11 or the 24 or the 29, but I wasn't dependent on it.

"To say to someone (for whom) using the bus changed the trajectory of their life, 'You're not a bus rider,' I'm not willing to do that," Sittenfeld said.

Council member Greg Landsman chimed in, saying, "Even though I'm not reliant on the bus system, I know that there are tens of thousands of people who are, and a lot of our employers.

"For those that depend on the bus, they will be much more likely (as board members) get to the ballot with a levy that will fund the transformation of our bus system, because it's so desperately needed."

Cam Hardy, who heads up the grassroots advocacy group, the Better Bus Coalition, agrees with Landsman's stance.

"When I say 'bus rider,' I mean someone who depends on the service, someone who doesn't own a car at all that uses the bus to live," he said.

"There are 15 million rides per year. You mean to tell me they can't find a single person?"

WCPO reached out to Hinton but did not immediately hear back. The SORTA board's next meeting is March 20.

Pat LaFleur reports on transportation and mobility for WCPO. Connect with him on Twitter (@pat_laFleur) and on Facebook.