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Published: Monday, 2/4/2008

TARTA mulls request to widen its Spanish-language services

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

When one of Linda Parra's friends called the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority recently to inquire about bus schedules, she got nowhere because she doesn't speak much English.

Ms. Parra, who hosts a local Spanish-language radio program on WCWA-AM, said even she had trouble getting information when she took up her friend's inquiry, because TARTA operators had trouble with her accented speech.

With the 2000 U.S. Census showing more than 20,000 people of Hispanic origin living in Lucas County - many of them, presumably, in Toledo or six suburban communities TARTA serves in the county - couldn't the transit authority do something to be more convenient for Spanish speakers? Ms. Parra wondered.

"A lot of other community services offer Spanish-language assistance," she said, suggesting that having at least one bilingual telephone agent would be a good start.

James Gee, the transit authority's general manager, said he has agreed to meet with Ms. Parra tomorrow to discuss her ideas.

While providing bilingual telephone agents "would be an issue" because of manpower and schedul-ing, he said, TARTA has developed a Spanish-language transit guide and timetables and could consider other steps, such as a Spanish-language section on its Web site.

"We have not heard from Spanish-language passengers in the past" about providing bilingual service, Mr. Gee said, adding that the authority does not collect data on how many of its passengers speak Spanish.

Diana Ortega, a case manager at the Aurora Gonzalez Community Center in South Toledo, said she spoke briefly in December with Steve Atkinson, the transit authority's marketing director, about providing Spanish-language services. Another such meeting is planned, she said.

While Ms. Ortega said she has received "no direct complaints" about mistreatment of Spanish-speaking customers, she has had people tell her things like, "I can't ride the bus because I can't understand the driver."

Ms. Parra said she believes she was treated dismissively when she telephoned TARTA, including being left on hold for too long.

Mr. Gee said he reviewed tapes of her call to the authority and does not consider the operators to have been rude with her. She was kept on hold once, he said, because the operator was trying, unsuccessfully, to find a supervisor with whom Ms. Parra had requested to speak.



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