You can only wonder how bad matters must get before Perrysburg’s leaders are shamed into doing the right, and decent, thing for their community.
Perrysburg’s public transit service ended on Tuesday, after voters narrowly defeated a stripped-down 1.45-mill transportation levy this month that would have provided limited service for people with disabilities. Last March, Perrysburg voters withdrew from the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority and its 2.5-mill tax.
When the buses stopped rolling this week, so did the ability of many people with disabilities to get to their jobs and medical appointments. Other workers outside Perrysburg, including in Toledo, can no longer get to workplaces there.
By leaving TARTA, Perrysburg has isolated itself, socially and economically, from the region. Now the city has opened the door to costly lawsuits: One disabled resident said he has contacted the U.S. Justice Department.
There’s plenty of blame to go around. City leaders thought their proposal to hire Ride Right of Missouri to operate a transit system could provide adequate service for less money. Ride Right had provided interim call-a-ride service since TARTA service ended Sept. 22.
The alternative plan failed, partly because city officials bungled the millage campaign. Now the interim contract for call-a-ride service has expired.
This week, several Perrysburg residents spoke up at a meeting of a City Council committee that is examining transportation options. They didn’t mince words.
“It’s a sin to treat people that way,’’ one resident said. “That’s my life source,’’ said another. “I will have the least amount of independence I’ve had my entire life,” said a Perrysburg resident who arrived with his seeing-eye dog, using the last call-a-ride service offered in the city.
City Councilman J. Todd Grayson responded by declaring Perrysburg has no money to provide further service. He blamed TARTA for not refunding $400,000 to Perrysburg for service that was not provided this year.
But TARTA marketing director Steve Atkinson told The Blade editorial page that the transit agency, which serves eight communities and carries more than 3 million riders a year, won’t collect for 2012 service until 2013. So TARTA could just as easily argue that Perrysburg owes it money.
At any rate, Perrysburg leaders, up to now, have demonstrated an appalling lack of empathy and leadership. Their best bet is to start negotiating with TARTA to rejoin the regional system.
Leaving TARTA was shortsighted: No local shuttle service can replace the nearly 67,000 annual boardings, including more than 6,000 paratransit users, that TARTA handled in Perrysburg for trips around the region.
Voters can’t consider another millage until May 7. Meanwhile, though, Perrysburg could contract with TARTA for limited interim service, which could start within two weeks.
Last September, TARTA’s board of trustees authorized the agency’s general manager, James Gee, to negotiate with Perrysburg to provide transit service. TARTA officials say Perrysburg has not contacted them.
Perrysburg’s deputy finance director, Timothy Fisher, estimated that extending current service through May 7 would cost between $102,900 and $125,900. An affluent community can find that amount of money.
If Perrysburg continues to treat people with disabilities as second-class citizens, it will have walked away from a fundamental responsibility to its residents, and will subject the city to well-deserved shame and costly lawsuits.
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