Despite Perrysburg’s ill-advised withdrawal from the regional transit system in 2012, Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority ridership continued to rise last year, with nearly 3.5 million passenger boardings. Local ridership grew more than 1 percent during a year in which nationwide transit ridership reached a level not seen since the mid-1950s.
In part, these numbers reflect Americans’ desire for mobility options and a more-balanced transportation system that includes light rail, rapid-transit buses, trolleys, commuter trains, conventional buses, and subways.
In Toledo and around the country, some people use public transportation because they don’t have access to private vehicles, or at least reliable ones. Others — so-called choice riders — prefer, at least some of the time, mass transit to costly and congested commutes by car. The number of choice riders is growing, especially among young urban dwellers, although TARTA does not know how many of its riders have vehicles but opt for the bus.
Meeting the nation’s economic, environmental, and energy needs, as well as those of urban regions, depends in part on attracting more choice riders and providing the convenient, comfortable, and reliable mass transit service that many millennials demand. Adequate mass transit systems are essential for cities and regions that want to attract and retain educated young people.
Still, neither the state of Ohio nor metropolitan Toledo is doing much to encourage mass transit. In Toledo, the momentum is moving in the other direction, with two communities withdrawing from TARTA in the past two years.
Meanwhile, Oregon and Springfield Township — whose location and density make them logical candidates for TARTA membership — are not moving to join the regional system. Funded by a 2.5-mill property tax, TARTA now serves Toledo, Sylvania, Sylvania Township, Maumee, Waterville, Ottawa Hills, and Rossford.
Most TARTA riders use its buses to go to work, and area employers strongly support the system. But elected officials and other local leaders and institutions — including the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments — have been all but silent on expanding TARTA services, encouraging communities to stay in the system, and developing a more adequate and sustainable way to fund transit, such as a regional sales tax.
Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins has not formally met with TARTA General Manager James Gee since the mayor took office in January. In an endorsement interview with The Blade’s editorial board last year, Mr. Collins appeared almost clueless about the role of mass transit in developing a central city and promoting a regional economy.
TARTA, too, could be more aggressive about attracting choice riders, including better promotion of its park-and-ride services and $40 monthly unlimited pass.
TARTA’s most recent ridership numbers are encouraging. But the gains ought to be even larger, given nationwide transit trends. That won’t happen until leaders in Toledo and the rest of the region get on board.