Some residents of Rossford and Spencer Township are moving to put their communities’ membership in the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority up for a vote in November. These efforts are shortsighted and imprudent.
Both communities get a good return on investment in TARTA. Spencer Township gets $161,000 worth of needed service each year for $88,000, partly because of federal and state grants that supplement local funding. Rossford recovers nearly $100,000 a year through a tax increment financing district — a cost offset for transit service that the community would lose with a private provider.
TARTA handles roughly 75,000 boardings a year in the two communities. Leaving the only regional transit agency would isolate them, restrict mobility for people with disabilities, and disconnect employers from job seekers, within and outside the communities.
That should be enough to persuade voters in both communities to stay in TARTA; Spencer Township residents voted just last year against seceding from the agency. But the stakes could get even higher if the federal government were to determine that denying access to transit and jobs violates civil rights law.
In June, the Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Civil Rights said that Beavercreek, outside Dayton, has in effect discriminated against minority residents by not allowing regional bus stops that would extend a bus route to the Mall at Fairfield Commons.
The city was given 90 days to fix the problem or risk losing highway money allocated to Ohio through the federal gasoline tax. Beavercreek could forfeit millions of dollars in funding.
In 2011, Beavercreek City Council voted against adding the bus stops that the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority sought. Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, municipalities that run programs funded with federal dollars are prohibited from excluding or discriminating against people based on race or color.
A local advocacy group alleged that Beavercreek’s action prevented some minority workers and residents from getting jobs or seeking medical treatment. TARTA lines to and from Rossford and Spencer Township carry minority workers and patients to jobs and health-care services.
TARTA and federal officials declined to comment to The Blade’s editorial page on how the Beavercreek ruling might affect northwest Ohio. Yet given the precedent, it seems plausible that a group or individual would make a civil-rights complaint against Rossford or Spencer Township if the communities pull out of TARTA.
At any rate, Rossford and Spencer Township should not need the threat of federal sanctions to do the right — and smart — thing. TARTA membership benefits communities by providing local employers access to out-of-town workers.
Transit-dependent employees get access to jobs. Regional transit provides a vital service to seniors and people with disabilities who need to get to medical offices, stores, and other destinations.
Neither community can afford to lose those services, or risk costly sanctions.