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TARTA needs a reboot

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If Toledo is to become an attractive hub for people and businesses, TARTA must take a large leap forward.

The Blade/Andy Morrison
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Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority passengers are concerned that the transit agency’s plans to cut service by 6 percent will leave them waiting for buses. But the real problem with TARTA is that the agency has left the Toledo region waiting far too long for a comprehensive reboot of the region’s public transportation system.

TARTA announced last week that it will reduce the number of buses leaving downtown on weekday mornings, cut the service hours for suburban Call-a-Ride buses, and reduce or eliminate weekend and holiday service on selected routes.

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The planned cuts were announced shortly after TARTA’s board voted to enter into negotiations to buy the former Goodwill building at Cherry and Huron streets. Under TARTA’s plan, the building will become a new downtown bus hub to replace the outdated downtown bus loop. Eliminating the loop through which all buses passed as they roll through the 12 blocks of downtown will save 60,000 miles of bus travel each year. This is good, as is the plan to create an indoor bus station where riders can buy bus passes or snacks, use the restroom, and get out of the elements.

The five-station downtown loop, created in 1982 was, in one TARTA board member’s own words, “good for a while and a problem for a lot longer.”

That is representative of TARTA’s woes. Much of the transit system’s operations are hopelessly outdated, and yet remain the same for many years nonetheless.

TARTA’s recently announced plans demonstrate that the agency is still content to solve its problems slowly and in tiny bites. TARTA needs to take a look at the big picture.

Ridership numbers slip each year. TARTA must contend with relatively low gas prices that motivate commuters to drive themselves rather than take the bus. A driver shortage and a need to reduce overtime costs also contributed to the latest round of cuts.

But service cuts are not going to solve TARTA’s problem. Rate hikes, small-scale route revisions, and even the proposal last year to change TARTA’s funding stream are also not going to do the job.

Cuts such as this are likely to mean even fewer people take TARTA. They put the agency on track for a downward spiral of dwindling ridership followed by more cuts, repeated over and over.

What TARTA needs is not a tweak, but a wholesale revision. Everything from the vehicles it uses to the routes buses travel needs rethinking. And that rethinking should start with an investigation of the innovative approaches other cities are experimenting with and using successfully.

Many cities are using smaller vehicles, investing in light rail, and developing apps that let riders pay fares and even track their buses en route. They are not using the transit systems they had in the 1970s, so why does Toledo insist on doing so?

Rethinking TARTA means designing transit for the Toledo of today and tomorrow, not the Toledo of 30 or 40 years ago.

TARTA should be the transit of choice for urban dwellers who want to move around the city to shop, go out to eat, and get to concerts and other events. It should not just be the work-and-school commute option of last resort for people who cannot afford cars or parking.

Much like the downtown bus loop, TARTA’s overall vision has lingered for many years after it was no longer good for Toledo. It is time for a total system overhaul.

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