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Published: Monday, 3/10/2014 - Updated: 5 months ago

TRANSPORTATION REPORT

Toledo's transit use follows national trend

City's growth has different cause

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Toledo Area Regional Paratransit Service buses wait in front of the Amtrack station in Toledo. Toledo Area Regional Paratransit Service buses wait in front of the Amtrack station in Toledo.
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Toledo’s public transit ridership grew slightly during a year when nationwide transit ridership reached a level not seen since the mid-1950s. But a deeper look at the local statistics suggests Toledo’s numbers are driven by a trend different from one cited by the American Public Transportation Association in its report.

The 10.7 billion trips on commuter trains, trolleys, subways, buses, and other urban public transportation during 2013 was the highest total since 1956, according to ridership data reported by transit systems nationally and released Monday by the transit association.

SURVEY: Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments (TMACOG) Transportation Opinion Survey

RELATED ARTICLE: Americans board public transit in booming numbers

The total also was up 1.09 percent from the 10.5 billion transit rides APTA members reported in 2012.

Toledo’s numbers also were up, with 3,448,956 passengers boarding Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority buses during 2013, 1.05 percent more than the 3,415,007 riders in 2012.

But in Toledo, the increase was driven by continuing rapid ridership growth for the Toledo Area Regional Paratransit Service, which carries passengers whose disabilities limit or preclude their use of traditional transit buses. Ridership on regular TARTA services, including Call-A-Ride routes grew by a relatively small 0.45 percent during 2013.

Warren Henry, transportation director for the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments, said he has no doubt young people now entering the work force are less likely to own and drive cars than generations before them, a trend that Michael Melaniphy, APTA’s president and chief executive, also cited.

“People are making a fundamental shift to having options” aside from a car in how they get around, Mr. Melaniphy said. “This is a long-term trend. This isn’t just a blip.”

“Fewer millennials have cars, and they’re locating more in core urban areas,” Mr. Henry said. “These two factors are having an impact now, and will have an impact in the future. These are riders of choice, which is key.”

But Mr. Henry also said young transit riders’ “choice” may, in many cases, be dictated by the economics of the low-paying jobs many in the Toledo area have had to settle for, rather than any disdain for the automobile.

“They really don’t want to pay for a car, and for insurance, so they’re looking for spots they can locate in where they don’t need to,” he said. “...It’s a result of the economy more than any generational thing.”

James Gee, TARTA's general manager, said local buses are used by some younger riders, and that's who the transit authority targeted last year when it introduced the new TARTA Tracker app for smart phones.

But most of the transit authority's growth, he said, continues to be on Toledo Area Regional Paratransit Service buses and among seniors who ride regular bus service because “they want to stay active longer,” even after they can no longer drive.

Mr. Gee also noted that much growth elsewhere is “being driven by rail systems, which is not really applicable in Toledo.”

Ridership on Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority light-rail trains increased 6 percent over 2012, as the public took advantage of an expanded network of lines. Overall, LA Metro gained 9 million trips to reach 478 million in 2013, the transportation association said. Among the other transit systems in California with record ridership was the Caltrain commuter rail service that connects San Francisco with Silicon Valley.

Houston, which has been more notable for its sprawl than its public transportation offerings, had a large ridership gain. So did Seattle, Miami, Denver, and San Diego. The New York area’s behemoth transit network saw the greatest gain, accounting for one in three trips nationally.

Transit advocates argue that the public increasingly values the ability to get around without a car. They offer as evidence the nation’s urban shift and the movement to concentrate new development around transit hubs.

“People want to work and live along transit lines,” Mr. Melaniphy said. “Businesses, universities, and housing are all moving along those corridors.”

TARTA, however, has not yet restored service cuts it made in 2009 in response to declining levy revenue, and its numbers also suffered in recent years from the Toledo Public Schools’ budget-driven decision to eliminate most student transportation.

The local transit agency also no longer serves Perrysburg or Spencer Township, which withdrew in 2012 and last year, respectively, and now provide independent services.

But TARTA otherwise “held together intact” during a two-year window established by the Ohio General Assembly for member communities to opt out by local referendum, Mr. Henry said, and needs to be stronger in the future for Toledo to grow.

“Communities that advocate for good, strong, frequent transit use will do better in the future,” he said.

Besides Toledo, TARTA continues to operate in Sylvania, Sylvania Township, Maumee, Waterville, Rossford, and Ottawa Hills.

Information from The Blade's news services was used in this report.

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



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