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Published: Saturday, 8/11/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

Sylvania to research its public transit use

Councilman calls going it alone 'foolish'

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Public transportation in Sylvania could become an all-or-nothing proposition.

During a joint meeting of two city council committees Friday, several council members said a primary lesson from Perrysburg's ongoing effort to establish a local transit service to replace TARTA is that the economics don't work.

"To provide one third of the service, you would save maybe $300,000, probably a couple hundred thousand, of the cost," Councilman V. Michael Brown said. "If we get out of the system, what's it going to cost and what level of service are we going to be able to provide [on our own], if any? Because you also have to get a levy passed."

Councilman Doug Haynam said though city residents deserve a chance to vote on transit's future in Sylvania, whose property owners pay about $900,000 annually in transit authority levies, going it alone would be "foolish."

"Balkanizing public transit is a dumb idea," Mr. Haynam said. Proposals Perrysburg has received from private contractors to operate a local service "are all significantly inferior" to what TARTA now provides there, and travel to neighboring communities will be complicated, he said.

"But it's a legitimate conclusion to say, 'I don't want public transportation in Sylvania because it costs too much,' " Mr. Haynam said.

The joint meeting of the employment and community relations committee and the utilities and environment committee, with all seven councilmen present, concluded with members asking city administrators to research transit use in the city.

Councilman Mark Luetke said he learned from administrators at Flower Hospital that about 2 to 3 percent of its employees use transit on a regular basis. Obtaining similar information from Lourdes University, Sylvania schools, and the Kingston Residence of Sylvania -- among others -- would be useful, he and colleague Todd Milner said.

Ridership data for specific locations in Sylvania should also be requested from the transit authority, to the extent it is available, they said.

"I would hope we can make a decision for sure by the end of the year" as to whether a TARTA withdrawal question should be put on a city election ballot during 2013, Mr. Luetke said.

A state law enacted last year gives members of transit authorities subsidized locally by a property tax the power to withdraw without other members' consent as long as such a vote is held no later than the Nov. 5, 2013, general election.

TARTA is the only major Ohio transit authority funded by a property tax, and some suburban members have complained that their property owners pay more in taxes than their communities get back in service.

Perrysburg, the most vocal of TARTA's dissidents, voted in March to withdraw, and the transit authority is statutorily obligated to cease service there on Sept. 22, six months after that vote was certified.

Perrysburg city officials have since called on the transit authority to maintain service at least through year's end, since the proposed local service would start Jan. 1 if city voters approve a levy for it at the polls Nov. 6.

They have also solicited proposals from private companies to operate a local service, but so far have held off choosing a firm to hire if the levy passes.

Most recently, Perrysburg councilman J. Todd Grayson proposed that his city contract with TARTA to provide at least a single route running as far south as the Levis Commons area, which also would oblige the transit authority to offer its door-to-door Toledo Area Regional Paratransit Service for passengers who have disabilities, within three-quarters of a mile of such a route.

"It seems like the Perrysburg folks are beginning to backpedal a bit," Mr. Luetke said Friday, describing Mr. Grayson's proposal as an attempt "to sneak into TARTA through the back door, especially on paratransit."

Mr. Haynam said the only way he could support the transit authority serving Perrysburg under contract would be "so long as the contract fully reimburses TARTA for the full cost plus a share of the overhead."

"Cost-plus is the key," Mr. Luetke agreed. "Otherwise, Perrysburg's just cherrypicking the best service."

Councilman Sandy Husman, meanwhile, remarked that TARTA appeared to her to be taking seriously complaints that using full-sized transit buses on light-volume routes to the suburbs is wasteful.

"I can't think of the last time I saw a big bus in Sylvania," she said.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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