A regional public transportation system that efficiently delivers employees to work sites, in the central city and suburbs, is essential to job creation and economic growth and competitiveness in northwest Ohio.
Yet as suburban politicians work to dismantle metropolitan Toledo's mass-transit network, a new study makes clear the long-term economic consequences to the area -- and the communities these officials supposedly serve -- of their shortsighted posturing.
The report by the Brookings Institution ranks metro Toledo just 69th among the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas in the percentage of its jobs that are in neighborhoods with public transit service. Even metro Detroit, which has some of the country's worst and most balkanized bus service, finished ahead of our area.
Five out of every eight jobs in the Toledo area are reachable via public transportation, the study says; in the city itself, all of them are. But in the suburbs, just one-third of jobs are transit-accessible. That lack of service is depriving a lot of suburban employers of potential workers.
The better news in the Brookings study is that metro Toledo ranks in the top quarter of metropolitan areas in the share of its work force -- nearly one-third -- that can get to a typical job in 90 minutes or less using public transportation. But such a commute is available to just one out of eight suburbanites.
The clear implication of the report is that suburban communities would especially benefit from a strengthened, expanded Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority, one that did a better job of knitting together the central city and suburbs. As the Brookings study concludes, the movement of jobs to the suburbs has impeded the ability of public transportation to connect workers to job opportunities, and employers to local labor pools.
At a time of scarce resources, the study's authors argue, metro area leaders -- public and private -- need to find ways to invest in public transportation in a way that addresses gaps in suburban transit coverage and disconnected neighborhoods. But Toledo is taking the opposite, wrongheaded route.
Perrysburg voted this year to withdraw from TARTA, without a plan to replace the service the authority now provides. The city's mayor complained to The Blade that TARTA "is kind of catered a little more toward Toledo" -- a chronic, if generally unsubstantiated, assertion.
Sylvania Township appears poised to jump off the same cliff this fall. Rossford officials are considering secession from TARTA as well.
Suburban politicians routinely look for electoral gold in beating up on big bad Toledo. But the danger of playing the us-against-them game is that in striking out at "them," you can punish "us" too.
The decline of comprehensive public transportation in Toledo will hamper the ability of suburban employers to attract workers. That will place our region at a competitive disadvantage in economic development compared to other metro areas with better transit systems.
Transit fragmentation also will obstruct the ability of many suburban residents to get to jobs -- and stores and doctors' offices -- throughout the area. Failing to address their needs adequately is a high price to pay for the expression of a we'll-go-it-alone attitude.
Attentive voters won't allow divisive politicians to play them for suckers in that way.
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