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Published: Friday, 6/6/2014 - Updated: 1 month ago

Workers protest TARTA funding, work conditions

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
TARTA General Manager James Gee, right, listens to Carly Allen, left, Business Agent with the Amalgamated Transit Union 697, during an Amalgamated Transit Union protest. TARTA General Manager James Gee, right, listens to Carly Allen, left, Business Agent with the Amalgamated Transit Union 697, during an Amalgamated Transit Union protest.
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Union protesters called on Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority leaders Thursday to push for a change in how the agency’s local tax subsidy is collected and to improve working conditions for paratransit drivers who have worked without a contract since 2011.

“Fix it, fund it, make it fair,” was one of two chants for the group of about a dozen people, mainly members of Amalgamated Transit Union 697, in front of the Toledo Area Regional Paratransit Service garage and offices on Knapp Street.

Carly Allen, the union’s business agent, said that slogan referred to the transit authority’s two property levies, a combined 2.5 mills collected in its seven-member communities that provides the bulk of the agency’s local nonfare funding.

Mrs. Allen said local leaders need to take another look at switching to sales-tax funding, which would be “more equitable and pay-as-you-go” compared to property taxes, whose revenue has slumped during the last five years as area real-estate values tumbled.

“It’s time. We really need to move in that [sales tax] direction,” Mrs. Allen said. “Our working families are paying the price for reactive leadership.”

Shannon Conway, a TARTA worker, rallies outside TARTA headquarters. The slogan on her sign refers to TARTA’s funding system and the employees who are working under an expired contract. Shannon Conway, a TARTA worker, rallies outside TARTA headquarters. The slogan on her sign refers to TARTA’s funding system and the employees who are working under an expired contract.
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A sales tax in particular would be less onerous for suburban property owners, she said, and would allow operations throughout Lucas County instead of just to places within the seven transit-authority member communities.

Disproportionate taxation was cited by Perrysburg and Spencer Township leaders who orchestrated their communities’ TARTA pullouts in 2012 and 2013, respectively. A petitioned referendum is pending in Rossford which, if successful, would leave just six members in the transit authority: Toledo, Ottawa Hills, Sylvania, Sylvania Township, Maumee, and Waterville.

But when the transit authority proposed four years ago to add Lucas County as a member community — a prerequisite step toward enacting a countywide sales tax — Sylvania Township trustees and Maumee City Council rejected the idea. State law requires members to approve any membership additions.

James Gee, the transit authority’s general manager, said TARTA leaders probably would approach Sylvania Township and Maumee first to reconsider their positions before renewing any efforts to switch to a sales tax.

Recent TARTA service reductions — in response to the Perrysburg and Spencer pullouts and, even more significantly, the Toledo Public Schools’ budget-related elimination of most student transportation — have shrunk the agency’s operations enough that a quarter-cent tax would now match its property-tax revenue, he said.

Five years ago, TARTA operated 1,249 driver-hours of bus service on school days, since cut to 855 driver-hours on the current driver assignments. TPS-related reductions account for 250 hours of that difference, Mr. Gee said. TARTA now employs 163 drivers and mechanics, down from 177 in 2011, although Mr. Gee noted the reduction has been entirely through attrition.

While TARTA operations have shrunk, the paratransit service has grown rapidly in recent years because of rising demand from riders whose disabilities limit or preclude their use of regular-route buses.

TARPS drivers and mechanics, who are paid less than their TARTA counterparts, have been without a labor contract since 2011 and their wages have not changed since 2008. Top driver pay for TARPS is $14.38 per hour, compared to $20.81 for TARTA drivers.

Along with pushing for higher paratransit wages in a new contract, the transit union has complained that understaffing results in unpredictable forced overtime for its members.

Mr. Gee invited Mr. Garland and other union leaders to meet with him after a TARTA board of trustees meeting Thursday to resume negotiations.

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



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