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Fewer people need public transit so the people who do are subject to its changes, for better or worse

Posted at 6:26 PM, Oct 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-07 19:13:08-04

CLEVELAND — Commuters like Gail Cox wear out the path to the bus stop just around the corner from her Clark-Fulton apartment.

“I probably leave after seven,” said Cox, waiting at the bus stop. “Then I catch the Rapid from Public Square.

Her job in Shaker Square is just about seven miles away, taking 15-20 minutes if she were to use a car. Instead, her journey takes her on a bus into Downtown Cleveland so she can catch a train to Shaker Square, taking about 45 minutes on a day when everything runs on time.

Gail Cox brings News 5 Cleveland along for her commute to work on RTA.

For roughly eight weeks, RTA’s Green/Blue line was under repair, meaning Cox took a replacement bus line to work.

COVID’s impact

COVID has found many ways to be cruel over the last year and a half, threatening friends and families while preventing most people from seeing loved ones.

Social distancing also kept many people off Greater Cleveland RTA trains and buses. The trend had started long before 2020, but the global pandemic swiftly cut ridership in half.

And yet, the people who use public transit anyway swear by it.

Mask mandates and encouragements to stay socially distanced attempt to keep riders safe on the Rapid during the COVID pandemic.

“I like to ride the rapid a lot, back and forth,” said Tyrone Mathis while going to see his grandmother.

“I like how it gets me to destinations ok when I’m going to events or shopping,” said Kenton Taylor.

Pre-COVID issues

GCRTA’s falling ridership, even before the pandemic, shows most people aren’t taking trips like Gail Cox’s commute to work, or Tyrone Mathis’ journey to visit his grandmother on the other side of town.

“I like to ride the Rapid a lot, back and forth,” said Mathis.

Neither Mathis nor Cox has much of a choice because neither has a car.

“[Public Transit] was the only way to get to work,” said Cox. “I don’t have a license.

Cox waits for a bus in Shaker Square. Her usual Rapid line was down for repair for eight weeks over the summer, putting her on a bus from Shaker Square to Tower City.

It wasn’t always that way for Cox.

A few years ago she and her mom shared a car until her mom got sick and the car started having trouble.

“We had to get rid of the car to pay rent, medical expenses, and everything,” said Cox. “You either live in the car or you sell the car.”

Gail isn’t alone

U.S. Census Data shows:

  • 8.6%of American homes have no vehicles. 
  • 7.9% of Ohio homes have no vehicles
  • 23% of Cleveland homes have no vehicles

You can see the full statistics here.

RTA riders like Claire Nordt and her dad, Kevin, use RTA often when they’re in Cleveland. Claire went to college in The Land and used public transit to get around and pick up food.

“I didn’t have a car so I didn’t have any grocery stores nearby so I had to,” said Claire.

Kevin and Claire Nordt take the Red Line Rapid to the airport after a trip to Cleveland.

We found them on their way to the airport after a trip where they avoided cars and their costs.

“Just think about whether you taxied or Ubered in from the airport, parking, renting a car,” said Kevin, ticking off additional expenses beyond his $5 RTA all-day pass.

Their experience highlights the difference between using public transit when and because it can be convenient and relying on it because there are no other options for people like Cox and Mathis. Tyrone’s mom has a car, but she often needs it.

“If my mom’s not around, I just get on the Rapid,” said Mathis.

What drivers don’t know

Cox says people who never ride public transit don’t know about its challenges, like unexpected delays and tough Northeast Ohio weather.

“When the weather gets bad and it snows on the ground, we have to toughen up,” said Cox. “I spend more money on boots than anything else.”

RTA’s Next-Gen redesign took effect this summer and tried to streamline service to better connect different communities and run some routes more often.

RTA cleaning coronavirus
At the start of the pandemic, RTA rolled out additional resources to clean stations, Rapid lines, and buses much more often.

Cox did her best to help co-workers find their way through the changes with pamphlets and new route maps but she says some of them still left because their commute became too complicated.

Still, she doesn’t think relying on public transit is all bad.

Her encyclopedic knowledge of bus routes and their connections gets her where she wants to go, even when she purposely takes longer trips to sight-see.

Public Transit Advocates in Ohio have been calling for more state funding for years and RTA points out that Ohio has lagged behind other states in public transit spending.

That often leads to tough choices that trickle down to riders like Gail who are just waiting for a ride.

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