Get in gear

Waiting to replace TARTA service in Spencer Township would be irresponsible, even reckless

A bus rider holds the schedule for TARTA's Route 7, which runs to Spencer Township.
A bus rider holds the schedule for TARTA's Route 7, which runs to Spencer Township.

Following Spencer Township’s narrow vote last week to withdraw from TARTA, trustees should move immediately to replace local service.

The Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority will end service in the township, after 42 years, on Dec. 31. Any delays in replacing even part of TARTA’s service will result in service gaps that hurt employees and other riders, including the elderly and disabled.

Ideally, trustees should have had an alternative plan at least partly worked out before last week’s vote.

Waiting was irresponsible. Township leaders should have learned from the mistakes of Perrysburg, which left TARTA last year, and not risked stranding riders for weeks or even months.

Creating a local service network takes more than finding a provider. Township officials must determine what parts of TARTA service they want to continue and what routes and service they’re willing to end. That will take discussions with TARTA that include ridership figures on various routes. As of early this week, those talks had not started, a TARTA spokesman said Monday.

TARTA’s Spencer Township service, funded by a 2.5-mill property tax, included more than 13,500 boardings last year. It provides call-a-ride, para-transit, and express buses that connect riders to downtown Toledo.

Unfortunately, no local shuttle service can provide the connections that residents, employers, and employees need.

In a regional economy, Spencer Township’s shortsighted vote is a loss for northwest Ohio.

The entire region needs to get serious about improving transit, including a better way to fund it. Spencer Township Chairman Curtis Lancaster supports funding countywide TARTA service with a more equitable and reliable sales tax. That idea deserves debate.

Spencer Township won’t be able to replace all of the service that TARTA provided — at least not without paying more. Because of federal and state matching grants, TARTA provided $161,000 worth of service to Spencer Township for only $88,000 in local property taxes.

Mr. Lancaster, who didn’t seek re-election, pledged that some public transportation will continue for residents who need it. He needs to make good on that promise, though he will not serve on the new board of trustees.

Trustee Michael Hood argued that Mr. Lancaster, who has already approached a local bus company, should not negotiate with service providers. Those talks, Mr. Hood said, should wait until a new board of trustees is seated in January.

Nonsense. Further delays would be irresponsible, even reckless. Community members who rely on public transit cannot afford to have service disrupted.

A gap in service could also leave the township open to a federal lawsuit or complaint. In a recent ruling, the Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Civil Rights determined that the city of Beavercreek, Ohio, had discriminated against the people of Dayton by, essentially, not allowing regional transit stops in their community.

Mr. Lancaster must use whatever juice he still has to ensure that planning and negotiations for local transit service start now — with the pedal to the metal.