'One neck to choke': City leaders looking for accountability with streetcar management

CINCINNATI -- City leaders continued their search for answers Tuesday as problems continued to pile up with the streetcar, 18 months into the system's operation.

At the heart of the numerous issues facing the struggling transit system: too many cooks in the kitchen

As it is currently structured, the city owns the streetcar and entered into a contract with the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority to oversee operations. SORTA, in turn, hired a third-party firm, Transdev, to carry out operations and maintenance.

"You need one neck to choke," said Assistant City Administrator John Juech during Tuesday's Major Projects and Smart Government Committee meeting. "I don't know if we're going to get where we need to go under this management structure."

Since its September 2016 launch, the streetcar has hit multiple stumbling blocks: Wait times are too long. Ticket vending machines aren't working. Ridership is down. Advertising revenue is down. Mechanical issues have plagued four of the five vehicles, especially in cold weather. Staff turnover is high, and operators' performance is in question. 

That's just to name a few.

"I originally supported the streetcar, and I still do," Councilman Wendell Young said. "Frankly, I'm running out of patience with the streetcar."

Young's not alone. The committee grilled Juech during Tuesday's meeting in order to, as committee chair Greg Landsman put it, "to get everyone on the same page."

Multiple council members drew the conclusion that the streetcar's management system needs to be restructured.

"If you look at what's happened in the administration of the streetcar over the last two years, it's not working," said City Council member Amy Murray. Murray formerly led the Major Transportation Committee, which was restructured and renamed with this year's new council term. She ran the committee for the entirety of the streetcar's construction and launch.

"If we don't make a change, it's going to continue not working," she said.

Murray said she's drafting a motion to ask the administration for a report on the management structure's efficiency.

"We're asking the administration to look at it and see how we need to impact it because between the city, SORTA and Transdev, it's been very frustrating."