A GROWING number of local folks are using TARTA for their transportation needs, and you don't have to look very far to figure out why: gasoline prices hovering in the $2 range. If ridership steadily increases, which could happen even if gasoline prices moderate somewhat, the next question could be: Can a fare increase be far behind?
After all, public transportation isn't immune to increased fuel costs.
An increase in TARTA's fare from 85 cents would hurt the authority's most faithful bus riders, generally low- to moderate-income residents. A modest increase, which we would hope could be avoided, would still make TARTA a cheaper option than the daily commute in private cars.
TARTA's affordability and convenience send a message that more Toledo area motorists are getting, apparently. The Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority says that in April it recorded 210,689 adult fares. That reflects a 10.3 percent rise over April, 2003. Overall, 391,003 people rode the buses in April, and that's 6.4 percent more than in the same month a year ago.
If gasoline prices continue to climb, TARTA may need to expand its service. That would please some residents. Say a downtown worker lives near Hill Avenue and Reynolds Road. If that employee gets off work at 5 p.m., he must wait more than an hour before getting a TARTA bus home, since the only buses going in his direction run from downtown at 4:50 p.m. or at 6:10 p.m. There should be more options.
Nevertheless, it's a good deal. Using AAA's estimates, it costs 56 cents a mile to drive a new car and 73 cents to drive a new SUV. If a motorist works five miles from home, it's $2.80 to drive the car and $3.65 to drive an SUV, one way.
Double those figures with the return trip, add parking, the cost of the occasional parking ticket, and the fact that most vehicles on the road are not fuel efficient, and TARTA looks pretty good.
It's encouraging that, for a lot of people, TARTA is the way to go.