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Published: 10/20/2005

TARTA ridership up, but high fuel costs burn profits

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TARTA ridership grew sharply in September as gasoline prices rose, but the increase wasn t nearly enough to cover the higher fuel prices that the bus system itself faces.

Total ridership on Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority buses was up 9.5 percent for the first full month after Hurricane Katrina s impact on the U.S. Gulf Coast sent the price of self-service, unleaded regular above $3 a gallon in the Toledo area for the first time.

And adult ridership the segment representing riders who are most likely to have their own vehicles was up 11.5 percent for the month, from 188,494 in September, 2004, to 210,148 last month, TARTA statistics show.

But while local gasoline prices have retreated from their August and September highs down to the $2.40s for regular at many Toledo outlets yesterday diesel fuel remains at all-time highs, retailing for more than $3 a gallon in the region.

TARTA, which gets its diesel free of taxes, paid $2.61 a gallon for its weekly order yesterday $1.21 a gallon higher than it budgeted for, said James Gee, the authority s general manager.

For the year, he said, the transit authority has paid an average of $1.73 a gallon, for a budget overrun of about $300,000 so far. TARTA buses consume about 100,000 gallons of diesel fuel a month.

That is coming out of the general budget. It s a big problem for us, Mr. Gee said.

Even if the additional riders were all paying the full 85-cent fare, the extra income for TARTA would only be about $18,000. Some of the growth involved passengers using reduced-fare tokens or monthly passes.

Fuel prices have been a mounting problem not just for TARTA, but for transit systems all over the country. Some transit agencies have been hurt less than others because they bought their fuel on long-term contracts, though even they face higher prices when their contracts come up for renewal.

Mr. Gee said TARTA once bought fuel on long-term contracts too but switched to weekly purchases several years ago because at the time, we were able to save money by doing so.

The transit manager said that right now he is not prepared to suggest any service cuts or fare changes to the TARTA board of trustees, but remarked that the start of 2006 would be a logical time to do such a thing.

We are keeping a close eye on the budget, he said.

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



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