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Bea Jennings has suffered from debilitating arthritis since 1975, has two artificial hips, uses a wheelchair, and can't drive.
Yet, the 72-year-old said, she's been able to get around town easily because of the specially designed buses of the Toledo Area Regional Paratransit Service.
"I wouldn't have a life if it weren't for TARPS," Ms. Jennings said.
Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the first trip by the small TARPS buses, which have grown steadily in popularity among Toledo area residents who have disabilities and need the service to get around town.
Ridership this year is up by about 40 percent, according to Paratransit Director Jon Elston, with the 135,899 passengers who boarded between January and September exceeding the entire volume from 2008.
A native of Romford, Britain, and a Toledo resident for 38 years, Mrs. Jennings became the second person to ride the TARPS' buses when they were put into circulation on Oct. 2, 1989, said James Gee, the transit agency's general manager.
Since then, the resident of Toledo's Northtowne Drive area has ridden all of Toledo's bus routes and calls the bus drivers "my extended family."
Her only wish to the agency and its staff is "just that they can go forward and that I go forward with them," she said.
TARPS now handles twice as many passengers in a typical week as it did in its first month 20 years ago. The single-day record of 767 passengers set on Sept. 17 marked the fourth time during the month that record was broken, Mr. Elston said.
Average ridership per vehicle-hour was 2.2 passengers, he said, up from 1.4 on a typical day during contract operation, and service was 90 percent on-time.
Harold Salverda, a transit authority board member and a retired deputy director of the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments, said TARPS' growth over its two decades of operation is remarkable.
Current ridership, he said, is an "unimaginable volume compared with our expectations" when the service started.
TARPS buses operate in the same nine-community service area served by TARTA: Toledo, Ottawa Hills, Sylvania, Sylvania Township, Spencer Township, Maumee, Waterville, Perrysburg, and Rossford.
The service is offered to anyone residing in that service area whose disability precludes him or her from using regular TARTA bus service.
TARPS vehicles and staff moved into cramped quarters at TARTA's 1137 West Central Ave. headquarters a year ago.
While $7.7 million in federal grants for the construction of a new paratransit headquarters on the former Page Dairy site in South Toledo was announced last November, Mr. Gee said a start date for the 80,000-square-foot building's construction is unknown. TARTA must contribute the balance of the $9.9 million project's cost, he said, and right now that matching money isn't available in the transit authority's budget.
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