Thursday, August 16, 2012

Adventures on the City Bus

I don’t ride the Toledo city bus any more. Allow me to explain.

Years ago, when I first started in my job, I began riding the bus to work. It seemed ideal to me at the time. After all, there’s a bus stop half a block away from my house, and the route drops me off literally across the street from where I work. It’s also cheaper than daily parking ($2 round trip, as opposed to $4, $5, or even as much as $6 per day to park downtown). And I saved the gas money, as well as car wear and tear.

Also, with someone else driving, I was free to read or listen to morning news on the radio. And the bus ran on time, more or less.

Eventually, however, I found a lot only 3 blocks away from my workplace where I could park daily for only $30 per month (the cost of a parking space in downtown T-Town is inversely proportional to its distance from the center of downtown). It made more economic sense: Monthly bus fees: $56. Monthly parking fees: $30. Even buying tokens, which cost 10 cents less per trip, saved me only $2.80 per month. And, for those inevitable times when I needed to drive to work, I would be stuck with the higher daily parking fee.

So I quit riding the bus. My car was simply more convenient. Ta heck with the environment, ah needs mah car!

At any rate, TARTA (Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority), the Toledo area’s bus system, is hopelessly inadequate. You see, Toledo is a small town trapped in a big city. It is not large enough to require a major mass transit system, and far too spread out to operate one efficiently (or profitably).

Also, there are 3 large cities in Ohio, and Toledo isn’t one of them. Those 3 cities, (Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland, often referred to as simply “the three C’s”), while they may be politically and ideologically different, are inextricably connected by a vast money belt that has 3 buckles that land in those 3 cities, from the southwest to the northeast corner. These 3 cities receive the bulk of state money, while the cities and towns outside the reach of that money belt scrabble among themselves for the scraps left behind.

Toledo often gets the fuzzy end of that lollipop, being a reliably Democratic-leaning city in a State controlled for years by a mostly Republican legislature and far too often a Republican Governor. What money we do receive from the state often goes to the far wealthier (and Republican) suburbs. So Toledo is usually on its own as far as money goes. And in bad economic times, Toledo suffers.

Which brings me, in my usual roundabout way, to my point: There is no money to improve on the city’s mass transit system (or anything else for that matter).

And it needs improvement! Most bus routes haven’t changed in decades. Every bus route still leads to the downtown area, despite the fact that nearly every business once located in downtown Toledo either went out of business or moved out to the suburban areas decades ago. The only people who still work downtown every day are the poor government schlubs (like me) or the people who provide them with food, drinks, or other services. Walk down any downtown street after 6 p.m. (when there’s no baseball or hockey game on) and you may not meet another person during your entire walk.

So being forced to take a bus downtown is silly. And if you want to travel from one part of the Toledo area to another, you must first take one bus downtown, transfer to another bus, and then repeat the process on the way back. A trip that you could drive in 20 minutes can easily take up to two hours by bus. And forget about taking a bus anywhere on a weekend. If you’re going to try, take a book. I might suggest War and Peace.

So TARTA needs a serious revamp. It’s gotten so bad that some suburbs are threatening to pull out of the system completely. One already has.

The problem is the money to overhaul the system does not exist. It’s barely making ends meet right now. And it survives at its current level by a continuous series of tax levies, which must be approved by voters every few years. And fewer and fewer voters are seeing the value of the current system.

A couple of years ago, a medical issue forced me to stop driving for 3 months on doctor’s orders (I was actually lucky – most states would’ve kept me from behind the wheel for a year. Or more.) So I got stuck riding TARTA to work again. It served to remind me of why I didn’t miss riding it.

I’ve ridden buses in cities with mass transit systems that worked well. I know it can be done. But the money and the will to do it have to be there. TARTA lacks both.

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