‘More balanced transportation system’ needed, speaker tells TMACOG audienceWritten by Duane Ramsey | | email@example.com
“We need to move toward a much more balanced transportation system,” keynote speaker Rick Simonetta told the audience of 150 professionals and local officials who attended the 20th annual Transportation Summit held April 11 by the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Government (TMACOG).
His presentation, “Enhancing Regional Mobility through Collaboration,” examined how ongoing regional cooperation has achieved success in places like Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Mich. and Phoenix.
Simonetta is a senior manager for The Burns Group, an engineering firm based in Philadelphia. He is a transit industry veteran who has served as CEO of five transit systems, including Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Columbus and Phoenix.
There is currently a rebirth of public transit with a revitalized urban core in many U.S. cities, he said.
“We abandoned downtown areas for suburban life. We need to get back to the downtown areas and create a revitalized core that appeals to the millennium generation,” Simonetta said. “There is tremendous potential in Toledo to create a rebirth of the core or downtown. You’ll be successful if you can revitalize your Downtown area.
“It takes a regional mobility vision and plan with collaboration to achieve it. Mobility is always regional with multiple units of government and public agencies. Citizen involvement is extremely important to achieve mobility on a regional basis,” Simonetta said.
He suggested a shift in funding for public transit in Toledo from property tax to sales tax. Property tax is a burden on local residents while sales tax is paid for by residents and visitors alike, he said.
“Progressive communities that have done good things with transit did it with sales tax, many starting at just 1 percent,” Simonetta said.
Phoenix started with a one-half-cent tax for 20 years in 1985 and extended that tax level for 20 additional years in 2005. He said the Phoenix metropolitan area, with nearly 4 million people, experienced a 62.5 percent increase in the use of public transportation during the past 30 years.
In Ann Arbor, where public transit became known as “The Ride” under Simonetta’s leadership in 1979-80, a five-year transit improvement program was approved by 63 percent of voters. Ann Arbor’s ridership growth was fourth in the country in 2012, Simonetta said.
Grand Rapids created a transit system called The Rapid with a six-city interurban partnership in 2000 when Simonetta was at the helm. The Rapid was named the Best Mid-Size Transit System in the nation in 2013, he said.
James Gee, general manager of TARTA, reported that ridership was up 1 percent in 2013 while covering less territory. Ridership for its TARPS service increased 7 percent while serving 320,000 riders last year. Gee said the TARPS service appeals to the 65,000 disabled people living in Lucas County.
“Transportation is critical to business and economic development,” said James Saas, chairman of TMACOG and an Ottawa County Commissioner since 2007.
“Transportation infrastructure supports business activities,” said Joe Cappel, director of cargo development for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority. “Toledo is a connecting point with the seaway, railroads, highways and airports to the rest of the country.”
“Passenger transportation is required to support economic development in the region,” said Robin Richter, director of transportation for the WSOS Community Action Commission that serves Wood, Sandusky, Seneca and Erie counties.
“We need a public transit service plan for cities, counties and the entire region to leverage resources for funding,” Richter said.
“This is the group of transportation experts that can make it happen in this region,” said Christine Connell, transportation public administration specialist for TMACOG and chair of the event.
Attendees of the summit answered various questions on LCD response cards provided to help determine, “Where do we want to go and your voice in how to move forward?”
Questions were posted on two large screens and audience members were instructed to vote by number for what they thought was important or not important on numerous transportation issues. The answers were displayed on the screen immediately following the vote on each question.
Eighty-five percent responded that is was extremely or very important to improve roadway safety, while 68 percent indicated their major concern is the aging transportation infrastructure in the region and that the transportation system needs major improvements.
Of the 154 people responding, 81 percent were male and 19 percent female, while 92 percent said they drive cars as their main source of transportation. A large portion of the group indicated income of more than $120,000 per year.
Other panel discussions at the summit discussed seeking a blueprint for mobility for the region’s transit system and how transportation assets can create global reach and attract talent to the region.
Panelists also discussed plans for increased bicycle trails and developing a regional bike plan, the need for more transportation for the aging population and the latest plans for branding of the Toledo Region.
Tags: Christine Connell, Enhancing Regional Mobility through Collaboration, James Gee, James Saas, Joe Cappel, Rick Simonetta, Robin Richter, TARTA, TMACOG, Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Government, Toledo Region, Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, Transportation Summit, WSOS Community Action Commission