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Published: Friday, 12/2/2005

TARTA board votes to up basic bus fare to $1; higher prices take effect Jan. 1

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The price to ride the bus in the Toledo area is going up next year.

Facing rising fuel, maintenance, and health-benefit costs, the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority Board of Trustees voted unanimously yesterday to raise the basic bus fare in Toledo from 85 cents to $1, effective Jan. 1.

Commuter token users will pay a dime more per trip, while monthly passes will increase from $35 to $40.

Senior and disabled fares will rise from 40 to 50 cents; weekly passes will increase from $8.50 to $10, and Call-A-Ride service will go up a dime to 60 cents from 50.

The fare for the Toledo Area Regional Paratransit Service, which provides door-to-door trips for people whose disabilities prevent them from using regular bus service, will go up from $1.50 to $2.

The extra cost is going to be a problem for many riders, predicted Victor Evans of Toledo's south end. "There's a lot of folks out here that can't afford that extra 20 cents, 25 cents to catch the bus," Mr. Evans said as he and his daughter, Thackery, waited for a bus yesterday at the TARTA Park station at Erie Street and Madison Avenue.

TARTA Trustee Francis Frey said his motion to approve the fare increase was "not without serious consideration of the effect it has on people economically" to raise their transportation cost by 17 percent.

"But I was also here when we had to cut service several years ago, and we saw how painful that was," Mr. Frey added.

The fare increase will be the first for TARTA since 1993. Even with the increase, TARTA's fares will remain at the bottom end of the scale among urban public transit systems in Ohio and southeast Michigan.

Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Youngstown all have base fares of $1 or $1.25, and some charge higher "zoned" fares for trips to outlying portions of their service areas. Several are considering fare increases to take effect in January, said James Gee, the transit authority's general manager. Detroit charges a base fare of $1.50 that increases for outlying service areas.

About a dozen people attended a Nov. 18 TARTA public hearing on the fare increase, Mr. Gee told the transit trustees. He characterized the general sentiment of their comments as "understanding."

Many of those waiting at Park station at midafternoon yesterday were resigned to the fare increase.

"It's money out of my pocket," said Anthony Leno of Toledo, who said a hike wasn't that surprising considering the rising price of fuel.

"That's the way the economy is, everything's going up," said the Rev. James A. Morrison, Jr., a minister with the Universal New Beginnings Church of God in Christ in Sylvania.

"You just have to pay it, I guess," said Mary Ellen Kolasinski of Toledo.

Despite the fare hike, TARTA's finances could get worse before they get better.

The fare increase is expected to generate about $250,000 in annual revenue, but Craig Bruns, the agency's comptroller, told the board that higher fuel prices and medical-benefit costs are projected to increase expenses $1.26 million next year.

Mr. Gee had noted during his earlier presentation that higher paratransit costs also have crimped TARTA's budget, rising from about $1.2 million in 1999 to $3 million this year as a surge in ridership requires longer hours and more vehicles. "There is an aging population here in Toledo," and that includes a rising number of disabled people who rely on public transportation, he said.

TARTA's adult-fare ridership was up 5.8 percent in October and 3.6 percent for the first 10 months of the year, but the increased revenue falls far short of offsetting the transit authority's increased costs.

James Bohn, TARTA board president, said after the meeting that he would consider service cuts to be a last resort as the trustees struggle with the budget.

"We're going to have to look at all avenues of expenses and see where we can cut," Mr. Bohn said. He added that "we have no intention" of asking voters for additional property tax levies.

Local property taxes account for more than half of TARTA's revenue, while fares provide less than a quarter of it.

TARTA has two levies, one for 1 mill and the other for 1.5 mills. The 1.5-mill tax expires in 2008, and Mr. Bohn said the transit authority likely will seek a replacement levy, rather than a renewal, on the 2007 election ballot so as to increase revenue based on updated property valuations. One mill equals $1 of tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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