Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Back Door Bus Stop

The Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority (TARTA) has discovered in recent months that in spite of the increased ridership which skyrocketing gas prices has brought them, that with the corresponding increases in their own fuel prices, the levy passed in 2007 is not allowing them to meet their operating costs effectively. 

As a consequence, they have recently reduced their level of service to certain areas in order to cut those costs. (Funny, I have been having the same problem lately, but without the same option to help resolve my own situation.) In addition, they have commissioned a study (the most recent in a long string of them) and a website survey to help determine what needs to be done in the long term to alleviate the financial woes and poor reputation that seem to be a way life for them.  

TARTA has also had an increasingly problematic relationship with many of the Toledo suburbs that it serves, owing to the high contributions that those cities give and the poor return on investment that many of them feel that they receive in return. State law however, says that once you join TARTA, you can't leave without the unanimous consent of its board. Since just over half of those board members are appointed by the city of Toledo, who needs to insure that no revenue sources for TARTA are reduced or eliminated, don't look for any departures soon. (Does this remind anyone else of an organized crime mentality?) 

Fear not however for the future of TARTA, for it already has a sense of its future and a plan to move forward, secure in the funding required for its continued operation. That plan is to abandon the levy process which it has only narrowly managed to successfully use to insure daily operation, and instead push forward with a county-wide sales tax ear-marked for its use. No more wrangling with pesky voters or proving its usefulness to riders, local governments, and property owners. (After all, population is dwindling and property values are declining.) 

Better instead have the entire county declared a geographic monopoly and expand its revenue base. Better still, to bypass regular levy requests and change its funding method. Far better indeed to quietly bleed the taxpayers with a sales tax than to place its name, reputation, and costs before that same disgruntled populace for a levy to provide the lion's share of its funding (80% of TARTA's budget is funded by taxpayers at the federal, state, and local level at last count).  
No part of this plan is being aired in public yet except as speculation, but support of local politicians is already being lined up for the change. The pro-forma study currently being conducted will no doubt confirm the conclusions drawn by TARTA before it was even begun. 

Congratulations TARTA, you have learned your lessons well. The failures of groups like COSI and local school boards are not lost on your board of directors. You will not suffer the budget tightening and disappointment of those who have failed to evolve their form of larceny in order to keep pace with the economy and growing taxpayer dissatisfaction. 

Your backdoor, backroom maneuverings and political machinations will undoubtedly produce the financial rewards that you desire. I have little doubt that you will secure your funding plans, backed by local politicians who do not want their name attached to the first failed mass transit system in the country, by unions who want to continue to enjoy high wages and job protection in an increasingly dangerous economy, and by a voting public who generally does not seem to understand that taxes are something that come out of their pockets. 

And while you drive increasingly more empty buses, made so by an unfriendly environment in Northwest Ohio that you have contributed to by adding to the crushing local tax burden, you can glide happily on your way. You will have secured your future by contributing significantly to the destruction of our present. 


3 comments:

Barga said...

It is interesting that you think they should spend more on the system. I think that our public transport has issues, but can be fixed. However, we need to change it first, not just keep throwing money at what it is now.

As I said months ago in a post about COTA and gas prices:
"We Need to Expand Public Transportation:
Everyday on my way to work I ride COTA. This route takes me about an hour and costs me roughly 20$ a day in wages over what I would have had otherwise. Keep in mind, I live only about 10-15 minutes by car away from where I work. I ride COTA to save myself from the hassle, and because I can ride for free (fine, it is a 9$ per quarter fee from OSU). That said, if I want to go from Columbus to Cleveland or Cinci I could not feasibly do it except via car. Furthermore, even to go downtown on non-weekdays the only viable option is a car (I do bike it though sometimes). We need to invest in more public transport, from rails to neighboring cities (I envision the US all connected via rails that the PASSENGER TRAINS GET PRIORITY on) to busing that actually works. By decreasing the demand for this oil we should drop the price (assuming static market)."

Tim Higgins said...

barga,

Having lived in Columbus for many years before ending up here, I can tell you that the difference is night and day. Efficiency, routes, schedule are all missing in Toledo; as is a downtown anyone would go to.

No argument that true public transportation would be better in many ways. Big empty buses isn't it. Maybe I will see it in my lifetime here, but not on the path TARTA is currently taking.

Barga said...

That is more or less my point. While we keep funding just the local stuff, nothing will change and it will just get worse. We need state funding and make it done by the state, then it will be much better