Thursday, Oct 18, 2018
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Transportation

Proposed bus cuts leave riders in a lurch

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    Judith Lerner is pictured at her home Thursday, October 11, 2018, in Toledo.

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    A TARTA bus waits at the Jackson Street bus stop.

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    Judith Lerner is pictured at her home Thursday in Toledo. Ms. Lerner uses a powered wheelchair and relies on the TARTA/TARPS service to get around.

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    Judith Lerner discusses the challenges of transportation from her home.

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For Judith Lerner, a Toledo Area Regional Paratransit Service van is the only way to the Toledo Museum of Art for a Sunday visit, or maybe a trip to a local park if the weather’s nice.

But that could stop if service cuts the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority is contemplating — which also would affect its paratransit operations — take effect as proposed Dec. 30.

“The weekend is big for me,” said Ms. Lerner, whose multiple physical ailments mean she relies on a motor wheelchair for personal mobility. “I like going to the art museum. I like going to the parks on Sunday.”

And while she doesn’t go to church, she knows people who do who rely on public transportation and will be left in the lurch if, as proposed, TARTA drops all Sunday and holiday service.

“Churches don’t have vans that can accommodate. They don’t have lifts,” Ms. Lerner said Thursday at her North Toledo home.

Transit riders’ ability to get to church on Sunday was just one of numerous issues raised during TARTA hearings Thursday about the proposed cuts, which agency officials said are spurred by a financial crisis they blamed in large part on recent rejections of a plan to switch their local subsidy from a property tax to a sales tax.

WATCH: Rider Judith Lerner on the importance of Toledo’s bus service

On days buses still run, operating hours would be shorter, which speakers at the hearings said would affect either their own commutes to work or those of friends or relatives.

Losing the 10:30 p.m. bus departures from downtown Toledo “is going to be devastating to me, personally” and to others who work late downtown, said Robin Hendricks, who lives in the city’s south end.

And Rebecca Blair of East Toledo said her brother depends on an early morning bus to get to work, while loss of the late buses would force her to give up her bowling night and other trips she often makes.

Bill Kelly, the authority’s planning director, laid blame for the bus system’s fiscal woes squarely at the feet of the Sylvania Township board of trustees, which in late July voted 2-1 to block a proposal that could have led to TARTA switching from property taxes to a 0.4-cent sales tax that would have boosted its local tax revenue from about $13 million to $20 million.

“It’s time to pay the piper for not having the opportunity to change our source of funding,” Mr. Kelly said.

Ernie Brancheau suggested that if the Sylvania Township vote was to blame for the transit authority’s financial crisis, it could start by cutting service to the township.

“We can talk until we’re blue in the face,” he said. “What can we do to get that member community to be more collaborative?”

But Mr. Kelly said the agency has to impose the cuts equitably among all of its seven member jurisdictions, which also include Sylvania city, Maumee, Waterville, Toledo, Ottawa Hills, and Rossford.

Township trustee John Jennewine, meanwhile, said losing its ability to use certain federal funds for operating expenses instead of capital accounts — a factor James Gee, the transit authority’s general manager, blamed Monday for precipitating a crisis — should not have been a surprise for TARTA.

“This is a perfect example of why we need new leadership at TARTA,” Mr. Jennewine said Thursday afternoon. “They should have known all along this was coming.”

Mr. Kelly said TARTA had been pushing to switch to a sales tax since 2009 “to avoid this situation” but that without unanimous support from member jurisdictions, it can’t go on the ballot.

Along with reducing service days and hours, the proposed cuts include eliminating a route in west Toledo, Sylvania, and Sylvania Township; trimming trips from several commuter express routes, and reducing “Muddy Shuttle” and “Walleye Shuttle” to downtown sports games to Fridays and Saturdays only.

Mr. Gee said outside the hearing room that those cuts would save about $2 million, and the agency is looking at a fare increase and other spending cuts to make up another $1 million.

“We are looking at an increase [in fares] sometime in ’19,” but an amount and timing remain to be determined, Mr. Gee said.

TARTA’s base fare of $1.25 is tied for the lowest among major Ohio transit systems. The fare last rose, from $1, on July 6, 2015.

Ms. Hendricks said she’d readily pay a fare of $2, or even $2.25, rather than have to fork over $8 a night for a taxi to get her home after work.

Mr. Gee said any fare increase, however, is likely to elicit protest from other riders who have the hardest time making ends meet.

Martha Carver, who commutes from West Toledo to Maumee, suggested that TARTA reduce midday service instead of cutting the first and last trips of the day. Eliminating the 6 a.m. departures from downtown, she said, will render her unable to get a bus in time for her job’s 7 a.m. start.

Meanwhile, Carly Allen, business manager for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 697, said the transit authority could save money by unloading the former Goodwill Building in downtown Toledo that it bought earlier this year, using federal grants to redevelop as a transit hub, and relocating TARPS operations to the main bus garage on Central Avenue.

If any service is cut, she said, the first thing to go is all Mud Hens and Walleye service, since that doesn’t affect people getting to or from work.

Ms. Lerner said there’s more at stake than ballgames, too: “What about going to the ballet? If I go to the symphony, can I stay for the encore?”

Overall, she said, the Toledo area has shown a lot of indifference toward its residents for whom public transit is a necessity, not a choice.

“It’s all about money, and where you live,” Ms. Lerner said. “Most people don’t have to ride the bus, but what about those who do?”

Mr. Kelly promised that transit officials will consider all comments received during the hearings as well as any that arrive by mail (1127 W. Central Ave., Toledo, OH 43610) or email (info@tarta.org) by Oct. 18, before making a final decision on service changes.

The transit authority’s board of trustees is likely to consider the matter when it meets Nov. 1, he said.

Contact David Patch at dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.

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