I live in a rural area about 40 miles from Minneapolis, the largest city around here, pop. about 400k. Normally it would take me well over an hour to get there during rush hour, but I recently discovered that there is a bus that can do it in 22 minutes if the schedule is to be believed. The buses can drive on the shoulder, and of course, use the HOV lanes to get there faster than we can.
I found this out purely by accident because it's really not well publicized. I had to go to Mpls and didn't want to deal with parking, so I looked into the bus route and was astounded that it could do the trip from bus depot to downtown in 20 minutes. The bus stop itself is about 15 minutes from my house, so I could be downtown in less than 40 minutes. I can't believe Metro Transit isn't screaming this from the rooftops!
Of course, life being what it is I made it to the bus stop late, missed the last bus in and had to deal with the 1.5 hour drive into the city anyway :-(
This is the problem with small cities' public transit systems. Temporal flexibility is limited compared to driving one's self to work. Need to stay late? You'll be staying all night, or your spouse must come pick you up.
Other issues (observed as a lifelong Clevelander):
1. The elapsed time savings of using public transit is often quite negative (compared to a city like NYC where it probably is often more time-efficient to take the train).
2. Parking costs are relatively low, so there's no tax on bringing your car with you to work. And, you almost never pay for parking at home.
3. You can't live easily without a car, so the potential savings of public transit is reduced to less usage of your current vehicle. You still have to own one, pay for insurance, etc.
4. Density is so low that your first/last mile issues may literally be that far.
All of this creates a death spiral for these public transit systems: Ridership is low, so vehicle frequency is low. This creates higher costs of public transit for people who have more money than time (how much could you have earned while waiting for the bus?), so these systems end-up serving only those with more time than money. This creates a stigma around using public transit which further reduces ridership. Add in white flight and the fear that extending public transit to the "nice areas" will allow "those people" to invade, and it's hard to imagine how public transit could ever work.
The RTA is very good for getting downtown or to University Circle (and possible Ohio City). Unfortunately the jobs have all moved to around 271/480. I did the 48->7 reverse commuting from Shaker Sq. to Highland Heights when my car was in the shop last year. Let me tell you, that sucked. Nearly an hour and half vs. 30 min driving. And there's only 1 bus the entire day that took the special route I needed.