OH: Perrysburg's Vote to Leave TARTA Spurs Questions

March 08--No discussion of transportation had been planned for the meeting that Gil Lutz attended Wednesday morning with a group of other blind people at The Ability Center of Greater Toledo, but that, he said, became its main topic after Perrysburg voters' decision Tuesday to opt out of TARTA.

"They were just asking, 'What happens from here now? How am I going to get to my doctor in Perrysburg?'" said Mr. Lutz, a Perrysburg resident who is legally blind and relies on public transportation.

While Perrysburg officials have pledged to develop a local replacement for Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority services in their community in time for a vote Nov. 6, Izzet Sozeri, general manager of the Hilton Garden Inn at Levis Commons, isn't especially confident that such a plan will pass.

"I guess time will tell," as to how the hotel's 30 housekeepers and other employees, many of whom take the bus to work, will be affected by Perrysburg's opt-out vote, he said. According to unofficial results, 2,715 out of 4,787 voters, or 57 percent, approved the withdrawal referendum.

The vote made Perrysburg the first community to take advantage of a state law adopted last year as part of Ohio's budget bill that allows members of any Ohio transit authority of a certain size funded by a property tax to pull out between now and Nov. 5, 2013.

TARTA is the only qualifying transit authority. Before the provision was enacted, member communities wishing to leave had to obtain the consent of every other member, and such consent had never been granted, prompting state Rep. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) to sponsor the legislative escape hatch.

"We're disappointed with what will happen to our transit passengers who rely on the service, but we respect the will of Perrysburg's voters, and we will comply with the state law and discontinue service six months after the election is certified," James Gee, the transit authority's general manager, said Wednesday.

TARTA receives about $1.5 million in annual levy revenue from Perrysburg, or just under one tenth of the $16.73 million total its two levies now provide. The authority's total operating budget for 2012 is about $28.75 million from fares, federal grants, state aid, and other operating revenue.

Mr. Gee said though canceling Perrysburg service will result in some job losses and bus-fleet reductions at TARTA, he expects to reduce the work force through attrition, not layoffs, and has no plans to cancel a planned purchase of 10 new full-sized buses, but retire older vehicles instead.

The big bus purchase is precisely what Kevin Haddad, a Sylvania Township trustee, said the transit authority shouldn't do, describing the transit authority's persistence in operating full-sized buses on lightly patronized suburban routes as its biggest public-relations liability.

Along with Perrysburg and Sylvania Township, Rossford has actively debated a TARTA pullout, but so far only Perrysburg has taken the matter to a vote. TARTA's other members include Toledo, Ottawa Hills, Sylvania city, Maumee, Waterville, and Spencer Township.

Rossford City Council last week approved a consultant study that could result in a Nov. 6 referendum. While saying Rossford may be less likely to come up with a workable alternative, Councilman Michael Scott said the large buses on regular routes are the main "waste" issue there too.

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

Copyright 2012 - The Blade, Toledo, Ohio

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