Metro Toledo needs a reliable, cost-effective system of public transportation to enable people who don't have a car or don't (or prefer not to) drive to get to work, school, the doctor's office, the drugstore, the supermarket, the Walleye game. Nine communities in Lucas and Wood counties -- and 3.5 million passengers a year -- enjoy such service, provided by the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority.
Yet TARTA is in danger of dissolving for no better reason than that a handful of suburban politicians see an opportunity to exploit us-against-them sentiments. If voters embrace that myopic attitude, the region's economic recovery will be delayed and its ability to make needed progress on issues that transcend municipal boundaries will be impaired.
The governing bodies of Sylvania Township and Perrysburg voted last week to place questions on the March primary-election ballot asking voters whether they want their communities to withdraw from TARTA. Rossford officials have postponed a similar vote.
Previously, secession from TARTA would have required the unanimous consent of member communities of the authority, reflecting its regional orientation. But an interfering Ohio General Assembly enacted legislation this year overturning that provision.
Trustees in Sylvania Township were so eager to slam TARTA, they chose not to wait for proposals due this week from a consultant they hired to study transit issues, or to take public comments on his ideas. They could -- and should -- remove the issue from the ballot before the primary, but that seems unlikely.
Like their counterparts in Perrysburg, the trustees complain that their constituents don't get an adequate return on the property-tax dollars they contribute to the transit agency. But they blocked a sensible proposal TARTA offered last year that would have replaced the property tax with a sales tax as a funding source.
"Empty" fixed-route large buses on suburban streets are a chronic complaint of TARTA detractors. By definition, a bus that departs from downtown Toledo will empty out by the time it reaches its suburban terminus. But if the argument is that suburbanites don't use TARTA, those who make it should try again.
By the end of this year, TARTA estimates it will have served 87,000 passengers in Sylvania Township and 74,000 in Perrysburg. TARTA launched its Call-a-Ride door-to-door service in Perrysburg; it now serves six suburbs.
Use of TARTA's para-transit service by disabled passengers, many of them in the suburbs, has nearly doubled in the past three years -- one of the best performances in the country. TARTA's shuttles to Mud Hens and Walleye games and its park-and-ride stations are popular among suburban riders.
Anti-TARTA politicians airily pledge to replace the service the authority provides in their communities, at a lower cost, without bothering to explain how they would do that. Many disabled and lowerincome TARTA users in Sylvania Township and Perrysburg say they don't buy such assurances of the virtues of secession. Neither should anyone else.
TARTA stumbled a few years ago, when it made illegal loans to a campaign committee promoting a levy for the authority. That money is being repaid. It is not an adequate reason to make TARTA a political whipping boy.
Recent studies conclude that not only is Toledo among the poorest U.S. metropolitan areas, it leads the nation in the growth of concentrated, extreme poverty. It is one of the most segregated areas of the country by income; its middle class is eroding. Income inequality in Lucas County is among the nation's highest. These problems are not confined to the central city but also exist in Sylvania Township and Perrysburg.
And they will get worse if Toledo no longer has regional public transportation worthy of the name. If Toledoans, in the city and suburbs, are denied connections to jobs and economic opportunities that will enable them to escape poverty, the entire region will suffer.
TARTA, which became Ohio's first regional transit agency 40 years ago, is a lifeline for thousands of people in this area. It also provides Toledoans who never board a bus with economic development, cleaner air, and less traffic congestion.
Losing these things is too high a price to pay for cheap political opportunism.