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Published: Saturday, 2/6/2010

TARTA work ready to roll

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

More than a year later than scheduled, the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority now plans to start building a new home for its paratransit operations this summer.

James Gee, TARTA's general manager, said his agency had secured nearly $8 million in federal funding for the project on the former Page Dairy site at Wade and Williams streets just south of downtown Toledo, but identifying a 20 percent local match was troublesome for the cash-strapped transit authority until recently.

The problem was solved, Mr. Gee told the authority's Board of Trustees, when the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments came up with $2 million in pollution-control grants that can be applied toward certain TARTA expenses, thus freeing local money for the building project.

"We plan to be out to bid in 1 1/2 to 2 months, and start construction this summer," Mr. Gee said. Completion is now targeted for late summer, 2011, he said.

At a transit authority news conference at the former dairy site on Halloween, 2008, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) delivered a ceremonial check for $7.7 million toward the 80,000-square-foot building's cost.

At the time, construction was expected to begin last spring and be finished later this year. But difficulty coming up with the local matching funds proved to be that schedule's undoing, Mr. Gee said.

Along with offices and maintenance facilities for the Toledo Area Regional Paratransit Service, the building is to have a biodiesel fueling center that will be open to public-fleet vehicles in Toledo, if not to the general public. It is to be built partially into a slope to conceal its size and conserve energy, and have solar collectors on its roof.

TARPS provides door-to-door service for people whose disabilities preclude use of regular bus service. Its ridership soared by 34.9 percent during 2009, to 183,997 passengers.

Ridership on regular TARTA routes, by contrast, declined by 2.7 percent last year, which Mr. Gee blamed on metro Toledo's economic slump and service cuts the transit authority made to balance its budget against rising costs and diminishing real-estate tax revenue.

A total of 4,075,250 passengers boarded TARTA buses last year, down from 4,188,830 during 2008. The 2008 number does not include transfers, which the transit abolished in September of that year in a move unpopular with low-income riders who said their inability to afford weekly or monthly passes meant they would pay double or more for trips requiring bus connections.

Paratransit's growth has been a long-term trend, but it grew explosively last year after TARTA took over direct operation of that service in late 2008 instead of contracting it out. Since the takeover, TARPS staff and vehicles have been maintained at the main TARTA garage at 1137 West Central Ave. But transit officials have planned for years to build the new paratransit facility at the Page Dairy site.

Also at its meeting this week, the transit board authorized agency officials to begin negotiations with TARTA's nine-member communities on bylaw revisions that could create a process that allows members to leave the authority.

Membership in TARTA is governed by state law, which has no provision for transit-authority members to leave. The agency in the past has obtained legal opinions that withdrawals should be covered by the same procedure required for new members to join: approval by all other member communities.

Transit authority consultants have recommended TARTA switch from a property tax to a sales tax as its primary source of local subsidy, but to do that, Lucas County would have to become a member.

Officials in Perrysburg, who are unhappy with the amount its residents pay in property tax compared with their transit use, are in a position to block any new memberships unless their community is allowed to leave the transit authority. Perrysburg City Council last June passed a resolution opposing the sales-tax idea.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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