In order to create a
strategic plan that would win the approval of member
communities and the voters come election time, TARTA teamed
up with Hart Associates, the area marketing firm, and AECOM,
a multinational engineering firm. The new strategic plan –
Move Toledo – is an effort to respond to regional changes;
to address problems identified with current services; to
make it easier to use public transit; to identify adequate
funding and to create efficiencies if operations.
And now TARTA will be
seeking approval once more from its membership in hopes of
getting the plan on the ballot and before the voters in time
for the forthcoming November election.
The result of that study
is a plan that includes advances in three key areas: core
improvements – a makeover of current services and funding;
technology – changes that will enhance the rider’s
experience and alternative fuels to improve efficiency; new
services – that will grant broader access and offer more
personalized transportation options.
The area of core
improvements presents the immediate impact to riders in
streamlining main-line services, updating the aging fleet,
enhancing services for the elderly and for passengers with
disabilities and creating a citizens committee.
The key to the whole
package, however, is funding – finding more funding with
greater flexibility. Ultimately, a change in funding is the
issue TARTA is waiting for member communities and the Board
of Commissioners to approve. That change is critical, says
CEO/General Manager James Gee, in order for TARTA to bring
enhanced and improved services to more area customers.
The proposed change would
eliminate the property tax that provides 46 percent of
TARTA’s funding and replace that source with a county-wide
sales tax – an increase of .05 percent. There are three
benefits to this change, says Gee. First, area property
owners would not have to pay the 2.5 mill in taxes; second,
much better transit service would be provided and, third, of
the proposed .05 percent increase in sales tax, one-third of
that amount would go back to the member communities for
Part of the reasoning
behind switching from property tax to sales tax is the
inflexibility the current system has in raising revenues.
While the costs for TARTA have gone up over the years,
revenues from property taxes haven’t.
TARTA has raised fares to
try to compensate for the loss of revenue from stagnant
property taxes and federal assistance (which comprises 31
percent of the operating budget) but, as Gee says, there are
two problems with raising fares. “One, we lose passengers
and, two, we hurt folks who need transit the most.”
Now that the plan is
complete, the city councils of the member communities –
Maumee, Ottawa Hills, Rossford, Sylvania, Sylvania Township,
Toledo and Waterville – along with TATRA’s board and the
Lucas County Board of Commissioners, will vote on approval.
If the vote is unanimous, then it’s up to the voters.
“We’ll see,” says Gee. “We
just want the voters decide. If voters want to remain status
quo or if they want to eliminate the property tax … it’s
their choice.” But, says Gee, the member communities have
told the transit system “we need a new vision for TARTA.”
The new strategic approach, he repeats for emphasis, has the
advantages for “getting rid of property taxes, getting a
better public transit system and improving streets and