Two announced RTA route changes have been postponed after Cleveland City Council has called for further consideration and a longer period of community engagement.
The downtown portions of bus routes #14 (Kinsman) and #15 (Union - Harvard) were altered as part of a larger effort by RTA
to selectively reduce frequencies and redirect some existing routes toward growing job hubs, including the new Amazon warehouse at the former Randall Park Mall site.
The #14 and #15 currently traverse Prospect Avenue from Ontario to E. 14th Street. The modified route would have taken them down Superior, E. 12th, E. 13th, Chester, E. 21st and E. 22nd, a route that emphasized connectivity from Public Square to Cleveland State and Tri-C. The changes were scheduled to take effect this coming Sunday but have been postponed.
RTA CEO Joe Calabrese, Operations Director Flounsay Caver and Service Management Director Joel Freilich appeared before City Council's Transportation Committee Wednesday morning. They described the downtown route changes as an effort to increase reliability. There are downtown events 280 days per year, they said, and buses were routinely being delayed 10 or 15 minutes on Prospect on game days. These delays had ramifications for riders deeper in the routes and resulted in delays for the remainder of the day.
That may be, but Councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland, who now chairs the council committee, and Councilman Blaine Griffin took exception to the fact that these changes to "legacy routes" on Cleveland's southeast side were announced with no public meetings and limited communication with council. The subject line in a press release Tuesday described council as "irate" with RTA.
"I don't know if irate is the word," Phyllis Cleveland said Wednesday. "But I'm disturbed. I'm disturbed with these changes." Cleveland said it sounded to her like RTA was attempting to alleviate punishment on one group of riders while simultaneously punishing another group. Was RTA benefiting CSU students, for example, while overlooking low-wage workers?
Griffin said there was an issue of perception to consider as well. He said he'd received calls from residents asking if this were another attempt to divert African-American bus riders away from a prime economic development and entertainment district (Prospect and E. 4th), one known to be popular among tourists.
"Perception rules the day," Griffin said, "and these are the calls I'm getting." Griffin also said that it was imperative that council be kept in the loop on upcoming route changes. "The worst thing for us," he said, "is looking like a fool.... In our business, we need to over-communicate."
Calabrese said that he had sent out an email to all council members with the upcoming changes on Jan. 10 and that his staff had published the information on RTA's website a full month before the changes were to take effect. In addition, information has been circulating on traditional and social media. He said because the changes only affected a small portion of the routes, he felt it didn't rise to the level of needing community meetings.
But he apologized. He said RTA had been focusing on communicating "big-picture" issues but could do better at communicating smaller, more specific issues. Joel Freilich said his team would spend more time looking at the proposed route changes, but mentioned that RTA had already extensively considered the questions and concerns councilmembers raised. Calabrese said the RTA board would discuss the matter at its next scheduled meeting on March 27.
Councilwoman Cleveland said she would explore the possibility of community meetings in her ward as well.