From The Cincinnati Enquirer Why did the Cincinnati Bell Connector crash into a cement truck or a Metro bus? Current Ohio law shields details from the public.
Rep. Tom Brinkman, R-Mount Lookout, wants to change that. He hopes to eliminate a 21-year-old law that prevents the streetcar's riders from reading internal crash investigations and safety audits.
Under current law, Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority must conduct annual safety audits of the streetcar, and the Ohio Department of Transportation must perform periodical, on-site safety reviews. But none of those records are available for public inspection – unless the ODOT director grants an exception.
Internal investigations into each crash are reported to ODOT, but the public can't inspect them either because state law forbids disclosure. In its first months, the streetcar was involved in 10 traffic accidents and another four safety “incidents.”
"Our streetcar has been using that as an excuse for not giving us the records," said Brinkman, a longtime opponent of the streetcar project.
SORTA can, and does, release basic information on each crash. When the streetcar collided with the cement truck and Metro bus on Nov. 1, SORTA gave details about both crashes and how long service was suspended in a news release. What was missing: what actually caused the drivers of the vehicles to collide.
"We are not permitted to say anything beyond the basic facts. State law does not let us go beyond that," said SORTA spokeswoman Sallie Hilvers, adding that the transit authority would comply with whatever Ohio law requires.
If a crash occurs on city streets, Cincinnati police would write an incident report, which would be available for public inspection. That report might come to the similar conclusions as the transit authority's internal review would, but it wouldn't include the safety audits from transportation officials.
It was not clear why the records for streetcars and other light rail operations were shielded from public view more than 20 years ago when only Cleveland had a rail system. ODOT spokesman Matt Bruning suggested the reports might contain security information that should not be disclosed.
Brinkman's change was added into the state's transportation budget, which passed out of a House committee Thursday. The budget still needs approval from the Ohio House and Senate, which are controlled by Republicans.