Perrysburg bus-riders express fear of rising prices, ADA complianceWritten by Caitlin McGlade | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Now that Perrysburg voters have voted down their present means of public transportation, a number of residents dependent on those services are coming to terms with the reality that their mode of traveling might soon grind to a halt.
At least 40 Wood and Lucas County residents packed city council chambers March 22 for a special transportation meeting, some expressing worries about the future system and some asserting unwillingness to subsidize others’ transportation desires. City Council members Todd Grayson, Maria Ermie and Tom Mackin joined a representatives from the transportation consulting firm Clearview Strategies to ask citizens what they want out of a public transit system. Some expressed interest in bus routes that lead to and from popular venues in Toledo.
“I’m a property owner; I’ve been paying taxes for 40 years and I absolutely do not wanna pay taxes for you to go to the Mud Hens, for you to the go to the symphony, and for you to go somewhere else,” said Denny Barrett, a Perrysburg resident who spoke during the meeting. “Get yourself there — that’s not something the tax payers should be paying for.”
City officials aim to draft a new system that takes the place of the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority (TARTA). Voters opted out of the service in the beginning of March. The city plans to budget about $800,000 for new service costs, which would take about 1 mil and a quarter in property taxes to levy, Grayson said. The cost depends on what type of services the city and the consulting firm decides with which to move ahead. The group has already taken rides on TARTA to experience how routes work and the next step is to meet with TARTA officials to take stock of rider needs.
In coming weeks, they will send out surveys and look for feedback from various organizations and businesses and read previous transportation reports. Ultimately, requests for proposals will invite private companies to bid for a contract that would last five years. The issue would appear on the November ballot and if voters approve the measure, services would have to start by January. But Mackin spurred a brief, heated debate about whether the city has the authority to levy property taxes for public transportation. He said he has not received a definitive answer from his lawyers. Both Ermie and Grayson argued that law permits municipalities to levy taxes for services that aid the elderly and people with disabilities. Grayson said he would hear within a few days whether the city can legally levy property taxes, so he questioned why “stir the pudding.”
Ernie Brancheau, a consumer advocate for the disabled community, questioned just how much a new, private service would benefit people with disabilities. He is wheelchair-bound and uses TARTA at least 30 times a week. Because TARTA receives federal funding, it must follow American with Disabilities Act guidelines. Private businesses do not — one of the reasons Brancheau said he can never take a cab.
“It does really scare me; when you go private then you lose the federal backing and you lose your ADA designation, so a private contractor can do whatever they darn well please,” he said. “If you don’t have the federal oversight, if I have a problem, who am I going to call?”
Grayson and Lynn Colosi, the senior vice president of the transit consulting firm, said the city would require that the company that wins the bid follow ADA-like rules. If someone is discriminated against, they said, the individual could at first report it to the company and then report it to the city. Grayson said he’s glad the federal government wouldn’t be able to touch the city’s transit deal.
“I don’t want their strings attached,” Grayson said. “I think that’s part of the goal here is to get out from underneath the 800 pound gorilla in the room.”
Gregory Symington, a Perrysburg resident, also wasn’t too convinced. He’s worried a switch to a private business will jack up the prices.
“When it comes down to public transportation, we have to subsidize this with our tax dollars because it’s public and they don’t have to make a profit,” he said.
Numerous other meeting attendees expressed the same concern. TARTA is affordable, many of them said, and they feared that the new bus system would demand higher prices to travel. Grayson assured them that the goal is to keep bus fares from increasing from what riders pay now.
“The goal is not to recover costs, the goal is not to penalize riders, to make (citizens) pay $18 to go over to Levis,” Grayson said. “We understand this will be a heavy loss.”
Although TARTA runs on taxes collected last year to operate this year, the bus system will stop services in October. Law requires the system to stick with a municipality for at least six months after voter rejection of the service is finalized. TARTA pulls in about $1.5 million from Perrysburg from an annual levy.
State Representative Randy Gardner, who presides over the 6th district, called the move “taxation without transportation” in a letter to James Gee, TARTA’s general manager.
Sandra Alden is a Perrysburg resident who commutes to North Toledo every day for work. She said she has a fixed income and TARTA gave her reliable and convenient transportation.
“This has caused a great imposition on me, as of the end of October, I will be buying a car, leaving a job, or moving,” Alden said