Studying TARTAWritten by Maggie Thurber | Toledo Free Press Writer | email@example.com
In 2002, TMACOG and TARTA decided to do a regional transit study. By 2003, they were holding public meetings to see if the area needed more — or less — public transportation.
The most common complaints heard were: “Toledo’s buses don’t run late enough and don’t run often enough,” and “They don’t go everywhere people need or want to go, and they take too long to get to the places they do serve.” Even then, such criticisms were well known.
Consultants Parsons-Brinckerhoff and Funk-Luedtke-Skunda, who got paid $250,000, did a phone survey of 800 households, distributed questionnaires on the buses and at public libraries, held the public meetings and arranged focus groups to gather as much information as possible about transportations needs and wants in the region.
By April 2004, they had their draft report, finding that Toledo’s limited public transit system curtailed shopping, medical care and employment choices for metro-area residents who don’t have their own cars or can’t drive. It suggested that ridership could increase “if high-quality transit service were in place in all areas where potential demand for it exists.”
Bottom line: public transportation doesn’t go to the right places, or goes at the wrong times.
In September 2004, the final report was issued. It came as no surprise to anyone that expanded service into areas of Lucas County was recommended. They suggested including service to Bowling Green, Monroe, Mich. and Bedford Township.
Additionally, the report called for creating more crosstown routes, negating the need to travel into downtown Toledo, and providing more evening and weekend service to attract shift workers.
Of course, the costs of such expansions were high and would require those new communities to vote in favor of a TARTA levy to fund the service. That led to another problem — once you vote to join the TARTA service, you can’t vote to leave unless all other jurisdictions tell you that you can — and that’s not likely to happen.
After about a year, the idea of creating more cross-town routes and eliminating the need to transfer in Downtown Toledo had pretty much fallen by the wayside. Instead, TARTA was getting excited over another study that said we needed trolleys in Downtown Toledo. Sure, people said they’d like to have trolleys back in the Downtown area.
But they never asked how much people would be willing to pay to ride on such a trolley system. That was a key point, as the price for the system to be self-sufficient was much higher than what anyone would expect to be an “affordable” cost.
By 2006, Perrysburg was talking about withdrawing from TARTA because the city didn’t think it was getting $1 million in service, despite sending that much in taxes to the agency. Perrysburg opened the door to the funding discussion, with TARTA suggesting that they should be funded like other transit services in the state — via a sales tax rather than a property tax. It also resulted in a proposed change in state law to allow jurisdictions to opt out of service.
While those discussions were — and still are — necessary, they brought up the continuing dissatisfactions many have with TARTA: that the service doesn’t go where they want when they want and that riders shouldn’t have to transfer buses in Downtown Toledo just to be able to go next door into a neighboring city or township.
Now, a new study with a cost of $140,000 is being done. The Parsons Brinckerhoff’s Comprehensive Operational Analysis (yes, same firm that did the original study six years ago) will look at where the buses go now and where they should go in the future. They’ll also look at the levy and if another funding mechanism should replace it.
Sound familiar? It should. We’ve done this before.
The last time TARTA spent tax dollars to figure out how to provide better service, they didn’t adjust their routes, as recommended. What makes us think this study will be any different?
Perhaps, considering the growing dissatisfaction with the lack of response to their constituents, the goal is to eliminate their two levies, thus eliminating the accountability we have over the agency every time they appear on the ballot. Instead of spending $140,000, TARTA should listen to what they’ve already been told: provide more convenient service.
The best way to ensure people will pay for a regional transit service is to make it worth their while. If they don’t do that, no study or alternative funding method will ever be enough to save the agency.
Former Lucas County Commissioner Maggie Thurber is the host of WSPD’s “Eye on Toledo.” She blogs at http://thurbersthoughts.blogspot.com.