OH: TARTA Unions Seek Funding Switch

Aug. 28--Representatives of the Toledo bus drivers' union and other local labor unions called on public officials to change how public transportation is funded and operated during a lunchtime rally Wednesday in front of One Government Center.

Among those addressing about 50 rally participants were Lucas County commissioners Carol Contrada and Tina Skeldon Wozniak, both of whom pledged support for taking a second look at establishing a countywide sales tax for transit that would replace local property taxes and allow buses to run to areas now unserved.

"Fix it, fund it, make it fair," was among several chants led by leaders of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 697, representing Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority drivers and mechanics, and other union members.

They brought with them a large inflatable camel, which, according to a union statement, symbolized their drive to "dump the hump" of current transit funding in Toledo.

"The current form of transit funding is standing in the way of improving Toledo public transit -- it's making it worse," said Carly Allen, Local 697's business manager.

"I don't believe TARTA is meeting the needs of our communities, either because of funding, administration, or both," Mrs. Contrada said after the rally. She called for a "needs assessment" across the metro area to identify areas of unmet transportation needs.

"The [county] commissioners are strongly supportive of regional transit, which is critical to the health of our communities and region," Mrs. Contrada said.

Responding to rider surveys and a consultant's report, TARTA officials in 2010 proposed switching to a half-cent sales tax in place of the 2.5 mills of property taxes that fund the system now, but a preliminary step required to place such a tax on the Lucas County ballot was defeated by the Sylvania Township trustees and Maumee City Council.

Instead of growing, TARTA has shrunk since then. Perrysburg and Spencer Township pulled out of the transit authority in 2012 and 2013, respectively, and a similar vote is on the Nov. 4 ballot in Rossford. A pro-TARTA rally related to that referendum is scheduled for 10 a.m. today at First Baptist Church, 167 Bergin St., Rossford.

TARTA also cut service in its remaining territory in response to shrinking property-tax revenue and the loss of a transportation contract with Toledo Public Schools, which eliminated most student transport because of its own budget woes.

Mrs. Wozniak said she appreciated the call to action that Wednesday's rally represented, and hopes the TARTA workers will take their case to Maumee and Sylvania Township in hopes of getting a different response to any renewed sales-tax push.

"I'm willing to do that," Mrs. Wozniak said, "and I believe the board is willing to take the steps to get this discussion moving full-steam ahead again."

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

Copyright 2014 - The Blade, Toledo, Ohio