The Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority will replace 38 of its paratransit vehicles and five of its oldest regular-route minibuses, using a $3.49 million "State of Good Repair" grant federal officials announced Tuesday afternoon.
"What this grant is all about is making it [public transportation] more reliable," Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff said during the news conference at Children's Park, next door to the new Toledo Area Regional Paratransit Service garage, which was largely built with federal grant funds and is scheduled to open late this year.
Paratransit is "an absolute lifeline for our disabled citizens," and people who need public transportation to get to work also need reliable service to stay employed, Mr. Rogoff said.
"It's either public transit or public assistance," agreed James Gee, the transit authority's general manager.
TARPS, which provides door-to-door rides for people whose disabilities preclude their use of regular fixed-route buses, has been the fastest growing part of the TARTA system, with ridership increases in each of the past 15 years, including growth to 220,000 last year from 137,000 in 2008.
Keeping up with that growth has been a challenge for TARTA, which took over direct operation of TARPS from a contractor in 2008. Although it has added buses to the TARPS fleet over the years, ever-growing demand has kept vehicles more than 20 years old in service.
"They're way past their life [expectancy]. The maintenance department has done a great job of keeping them safe and running, but we certainly need these new buses," said James Bohn, president of the TARTA board of trustees.
The 38 replacement vehicles represent just more than two-thirds of the TARPS fleet, assuming all replace existing buses one-for-one. Mr. Gee said such replacement is the plan, "but we'll reassess that" when the new buses start arriving in a few months.
The five other buses will go into service on the Call-A-Ride routes the transit authority operates in the suburban parts of its service area, including Sylvania, Sylvania Township, Spencer Township, Waterville, Maumee, Perrysburg, and Rossford.
Toledo's grant application was among 152 that the Federal Transit Administration approved for a $776 million program nationwide, out of 400 applications received. It is the largest program grant to an Ohio transit agency.
"Toledo has come out a big winner in our national competition for 'State of Good Repair' funds," Mr. Rogoff said.
The new buses' delivery might coincide with opening of the new TARPS headquarters on Morris Street.
The $7.5 million paratransit garage and administration building, also built mainly with federal grant funds, occupies the site of the former Page Dairy, which was torn down in the mid-1990s after years of vacancy and vandalism.
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) said the TARPS facility and the bus purchase both represent "an investment in the people who rely on TARPS and Call-A-Ride" to live independent lives.
Mr. Rogoff added that the new building will have $1 million worth of solar panels to generate electricity, further enhancing the energy-efficiency benefits that public transportation offers to riders.
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