TARTA receives $3.49M in wake of ‘disastrous’ amendmentWritten by Zach Davis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority (TARTA) received a $3.49 million grant from the U.S. government on July 5, one week after a potentially damaging amendment was passed.
The “State of Good Repair Award” from the U.S. Department of Transportation — Federal Transit Administration will provide TARTA with 38 new paratransit vehicles and five Call-A-Ride vehicles for the future.
It was the largest amount of funding in Ohio by the program, according to TARTA.
The new vehicles will replace the majority of the fleet of buses that are as much as 20 years old, according to James Gee, general manager of TARTA.
“For transit to be a real option, it has to be reliable. In today’s economy, reliable bus services is essential for many people getting to work on time,” Gee said. “It fills a critical need for transportation in our community and provides a real shot in the arm for the neighborhood.”
The Paratransit Operations Facility will become home to about 100 TARTA employees when it opens in October or November, Gee said. Construction began on the $9.6 million facility in 2010 on the site of the former Page Dairy that has been vacant wooded land for several years.
“We got rid of the old Page Dairy to make room for the new Paratransit Operations Facility. It is an investment in jobs and people who rely on TARPS for transportation,” U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur said.
TARPS has experienced 15 consecutive years of ridership growth which has doubled during the past three years becoming the fastest growing program in Ohio. The Call-A-Ride program has grown by 20 percent due to an increase of employment trips taking people to work, Gee said.
“This is not only an investment in the jobs of today in this region but it is also an investment in the people that rely on TARPS for independent lives as productive members of our community,” Kaptur said.
Toledo was one of roughly 150 cities around the nation to receive federal funding out of the nearly 400 cities that sent in project applications.
“Toledo has come out a big winner in our national competition,” Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff said. “It was their vision in recognizing that they need to step up and bring the tax dollars of Northern Ohio citizens back to the taxpayers of Northern Ohio by applying for funds to replace their paratransit vehicles.
“To succeed transit has to be desirable and it has to be reliable. The vehicles we are replacing here were more than 20 years old and frankly they were being driven into the ground given the growth in ridership and service that they’ve had to churn out. When you do that you undermine reliability.”
Not all in favor
Not everyone was in favor of the move, however, including Perrysburg Mayor Nelson Evans and Waterville Mayor Derek Merrin.
“The government can do that if they want but I just don’t know if buses are what they need,” Evans said. “You have to have drivers to drive them and I see a bunch of empty buses as it is now. I don’t know if that’s going to save the system or not.”
“It’s a prime example of government waste and why we have a
$14 trillion deficit,” Merrin said.
An amendment authored by State Rep. Randy Gardner was passed into the state budget bill on June 29 and the communities involved in TARTA will now have the chance to vote on whether or not to be involved with the regional transit authority as early as 2012.
The current TARTA system states that when one of the nine subdivisions wishes to withdraw from TARTA, the move would have to be approved by the rest of the members. However, the financial share of the community leaving would have to be covered by the rest of the participants. Perrysburg has attempted to leave the system in previous years but has been blocked by the other members.
“We asked to get out and the way the thing is set up there is no way anybody is going to let you go,” Evans said. “You are basically permanently taxed and you have no say in it.”
“The current situation does not provide individual communities with autonomy,” Merrin said. “It allows one community to tell another community what it cannot do and what their taxes are going to be in regards to TARTA and that’s a problem.”
TARTA President Jim Gee has described the potential amendment as “disastrous” to its future.
“The rules and policies of TARTA’s ‘Hotel California’ have been changed,” Gardner said. “Now elected officials and citizens in Perrysburg and the eight other communities don’t have to forever accept the words ‘you can never leave.’”
Back in May, Gardner said Rossford would also be interested in possibly opting out of TARTA. Rossford Mayor Bill Verbosky, Jr. was not available for comment.
Although some have expressed interest in leaving TARTA, Toledo Mayor Mike Bell expressed that Toledo has no plans in opting out.
“I don’t have any control over [the others],” Bell said. “I can just say that we will be extremely supportive of TARTA. The largest impact is probably on our citizens so we will do whatever we can to make sure TARTA is successful.”
If some of the communities decide to opt out from TARTA, it will not necessarily lead to the community being without public transportation. Both Evans and Merrin didn’t rule out using TARTA or its paratransit service TARPS in the future.
Evans has a committee working on ways to make TARTA work better for Perrysburg and will propose those options if the residents vote to opt out in upcoming elections.
“Even if we vote ourselves out of TARTA, it doesn’t mean we can’t enter into a contractual relationship with TARTA for a specified service and an amount of money that people are willing to spend,” Evans said.
Evans also stressed the importance of TARPS, calling the paratransit service “vital.”
Merrin is looking at three options if Waterville leaves TARTA. The first is to continue to use the TARPS service, as is allowed in the recently passed amendment. The second option would be to contract with a private company while the final option is for the government to “not get involved with the transportation.”
TARTA is also dealing with a decision by Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost, who released a news release May 5 that said TARTA illegally lent $66,885 to “Citizens for TARTA.”
Merrin had filed a complaint with the Lucas County Board of Elections on Jan. 12.
Toledo Free Press Senior Business Writer Duane Ramsey contributed to this report.