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Published: Monday, 5/3/2004

Area transit officials will mull results of study

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Recent hearings reinforced what a draft Regional Transit Study's finding showed: For many people in the Toledo area, public transportation doesn't go to the right places, or goes at the wrong times.

Now comes the hard part: to decide what, if anything, to do about it, and determine whether to enlist the aid of consultants in framing the possible solutions.

The report, released for discussion at a series of four hearings in Toledo, Sylvania Township, and Oregon last week, stated that area transit ridership could increase by between 4,000 and 10,000 people per day from its current 20,000 riders "if high-quality transit service were in place in all areas where potential demand for it exists."

But the committee overseeing the study opted to wait until after the hearings before deciding what recommendations it will make, and it is unlikely to offer specific proposals about adding or changing transit services in the metropolitan area. Such suggestions are to be part of a proposed second phase of the study, the scope and funding of which remains uncertain.

"We have to go back to our funding agencies with the comments we've gotten at these hearings, and with the research we have in the study, and see if there's sufficient interest to see where to go next," said David Dysard, director of transportation for the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments, the study's primary sponsor.

The first phase, conducted by two consulting firms, cost $250,000. A "full-scale" second phase could cost as much as $400,000, Mr. Dysard said.

"It might be a lot less if we only look at limited areas," he said. "It's the scope of who's interested and who's not. We can design a targeted study."

The oversight committee has yet to schedule its first meeting after the hearings. Jim Gee, the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority's general manager and a committee member, said late-May dates were being considered for such a meeting.

Leaders of several communities that contributed to the Phase 1 cost are doubtful about spending more on consultants.

"If we had public transportation in every jurisdiction, I'm still not sure it would fit" the transportation needs of a large part of Lucas County's population, said Harry Barlos, president of the Lucas County commissioners. "They would have to convince me" that more study is needed.

During a meeting last week with Toledo City Council's intergovernmental relations committee, Mr. Dysard conceded that local transit's limitations were not surprising, but the study "provides the numbers to back up the anecdotes."

Those numbers include a system that misses 57 percent of workplaces in Lucas, Wood, and southern Monroe counties, and fails to serve 31 percent of residences in areas that have enough population to be considered "transit supportive." Service is especially inadequate at night and on weekends.

Suburban Toledo communities that lack bus service include Northwood and Oregon, and Perrysburg, Monclova, and Springfield townships.

During the hearings, speakers told how those shortcomings keep them from traveling to such places as St. Charles Hospital and the Spring Meadows shopping district. An experimental TARTA bus serving Toledo Express Airport runs past Spring Meadows, but because Springfield Township is not a transit authority member, the bus is not allowed to stop there.

TARTA and its Toledo Area Regional Paratransit Service, which runs specialized van service for elderly and disabled people, operate in nine communities that were either transit authority members when the agency was created in 1971 or have since joined it, and whose voters have approved property taxes to subsidize the service. Those communities are Toledo, Ottawa Hills, Sylvania, Sylvania Township, Maumee, Waterville, Spencer Township, Perrysburg, and Rossford.

Niche players in area transit are University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University buses and a Dial-A-Ride bus operated in Bedford Township by Monroe County's Lake Erie Transit. A subsidized taxi in Bowling Green provides rides there, but offers no connections to other transit services.

TARTA expansion under its current charter would require those communities desiring service to approve a tax levy, and TARTA members then must approve the expansion.

Frank Szollosi, the council committee's chairman, said he'd like to see a countywide - or even multi-county - levy considered as an alternative.

In response, Mr. Dysard said the Toledo system and Youngstown's are the only transit districts in Ohio still funded by property taxes, but cautioned that a sales tax has its drawbacks. During the recent economic slump, other transit systems have had to cut service because of reduced revenue, but Toledo and Youngstown avoided that because of their more stable revenue sources.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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