Transit In Dayton, Ohio

Dayton 1
A former trolley bus in Dayton, Ohio. Christopher MacKechnie

Dayton, Ohio is located in the southwestern portion of the state, fairly close to Cincinnati and along Interstate 75.  It has a metropolitan population of 840,000, with the city proper being around 141,000.  Public transit in Dayton is provided by the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority (RTA), which was formerly known as the Miami Valley Regional Transit Authority.  Dayton transit’s claim to fame is that the agency is one of only five remaining transit agencies in the United States to operate electric trolley buses (the others are San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, and Philadelphia.  It is the second oldest trolleybus system in the country, with its’ opening in 1933 bettered only by Philadelphia’s opening in 1927.

RTA operates four school routes, three express routes, and twenty-eight local routes.  Trolley buses usually provide all the service on four local routes (4, 5, 7, and 8) and some peak tripper service on three additional routes (1, 2, 3).  Overall, service is operated by a peak requirement of ninety regular buses and twenty-six trolley buses that service an area of 274 square miles and 559,062 of the area’s residents, according to the ​National Transit Database website.

In FY13, these buses provided 9.7 million annual trips for a low per capita ridership of 17.4.  The network is mostly radial, with almost all routes focused on downtown Dayton.  The best service is generally every thirty minutes, with a few routes operating every twenty minutes.  Despite the poor headways, the service span is great for a city the size of Dayton, with service operating from 4:30 AM – 2:00 AM weekdays, 5:00 AM – 2:00 AM on Saturdays, and  6:00 AM – 2:00 AM on Sundays.

Fares and Funding

As of January 2016, Dayton charges $1.75 per ride for adults; with children twelve and under, seniors, and the disabled riding for $0.85.  A 31-day pass is $55 and $32 for reduced fare patrons.   Interestingly, two high school passes are offered – one that is only valid before and after school for $30 per month and one that is valid from 6 AM – 7 PM for $40.  A family day pass that is valid on all days is $8, making it a much better value for people riding together than the $5 daypass, and transfers are still available for $0.25.

The annual operating budget of $58 million mostly comes from local funds from a sales tax  (50%) and federal assistance (31%), with fare revenues only making up (17%) of the total.  Notably absent is any state help – dominated by rural interests, Ohio’s legislature is one of a handful of state legislatures that provide no transit funding.  ¾ of the $4.6 million capital budget comes from the Federal Transit Administration, with the rest coming from local sources.

Projects and Outlook

Similarly to most other smaller cities, the RTA merely wishes to continue operating as it always has.  Unfortunately, no effort is being made to make the bus an important part of life for the average Daytonian.

The ease of getting around Dayton without a car is 5 out of 10.  An excellent service span is countered by poor frequency and a lack of network expansion as suburban sprawl has taken hold of the metropolitan area.