Year in Review: Law allows communities to opt out of TARTAWritten by Joel Sensenig | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
An amendment passed into law in June allows communities to decide for themselves whether they want to remain part of the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority system.
Perrysburg and Sylvania Township acted quickly on the amendment and will place a measure before voters in the March primary, giving them the power of voting out of the regional transit authority system. Rossford is also considering leaving the system, but its City Council recently postponed putting it to a vote, saying they wanted more time to develop an alternative transit plan first.
Previously, when one of the system’s nine subdivisions — Maumee, Ottawa Hills, Perrysburg, Rossford, Spencer Township, Sylvania, Sylvania Township, Toledo and Waterville — wanted to leave, the move had to be approved by the others. Perrysburg had attempted to leave in the past but was blocked from doing so by the other subdivisions.
The amendment was authored by Republican Randy Gardner, a state representative of Wood County’s 6th District, who said the issue is about freedom of choice.
“All along, this has never been about TARTA,” Gardner said. “This has been about voters’ rights and about the freedom for communities to decide whether or not they would like to try to improve their transportation services in another way. The law is pretty much working as it was intended. It has allowed at least for city councils and township trustees to have a discussion with their communities about the future, about what’s best for the people they serve.”
Perrysburg Mayor Nelson Evans said his city’s residents are paying about $1.5 million annually to be involved with TARTA, despite Perrysburg voters rejecting TARTA’s last two levy requests.
“If we’re going to be taxed for a service, especially if we’re unhappy with that service, then we want to be able to say whether we want to be part of that service or not,” Evans said. “Part of the fatal flaw of this transportation system is the fact that we’re stuck there unless all the people say we can get out.”
Evans said demographics of the subdivisions involved have shifted in the past several decades from when TARTA’s system of organization was developed.
“From what people are telling me, they’re tired of seeing these empty buses driving around town with nobody in them,” he said. “As demographics have changed over the years, people (here) just don’t use it as much.”
Evans said Perrysburg City Council members are exploring TARTA alternatives should voters decide to opt out of the system, committing to offer a substitute transportation system on the November ballot if needed.
TARTA general manager Jim Gee has publicly spoken out against the amendment, which he says will be a detriment to riders who depend on the service.
“It’s certainly within the voters’ rights to (opt out), but I think if a community does that, it really has a negative effect on the residents within that community who rely on public transit,” Gee said. “It also has a negative effect on citizens from outside that community who need to get to that location for jobs and services.”
And while Gee said the population most utilizing TARTA remains in Toledo, he believes the impact of subdivisions leaving will have an impact on the suburbs.
“We do see a lot of folks going to Perrysburg and Sylvania Township, especially with suburban job growth,” Gee said. “There are a lot of jobs in the suburban fringe, especially service jobs. There would be a financial impact (from subdivisions leaving TARTA), but the financial impact is not that great, because when a community opts out, service to that community stops. The bigger impact is a social impact, because our passengers will no longer be able to move between communities like they can now.”