Sunday, March 16, 2008

Accountability at TARTA

Last November, TARTA had one of their two levies on the ballot. It passed, but six of the nine TARTA jurisdictions defeated the levy. Support from the City of Toledo voters overcame the no votes from the six suburban communities.

In response to the issues raised during the campaign, TARTA manager James Gee said the agency would look at how to address those concerns - perhaps by enlisting the help of TMACOG.

As of my last email with Gee, TARTA is planning to issue an RFP for a study...again. The last one they did, in 2005, still has many recommendations that have not been implemented.

The problem many people have with TARTA revolves around state law. Under current law, once a community joins a regional transit authority, they cannot leave unless all the other jurisdictions give them permission. Also, if you'd like to join TARTA, you're making a permanent commitment - something several area jurisdictions are unwilling to do.

So State Rep. Randy Gardner introduced HB 480 which would allow member communities to withdraw from an RTA - and allow others to join for a 3-year trial period.

TARTA, of course, objects.

They say that this bill is targeted solely to them. And that is correct - but only because other RTAs in Ohio don't have the numerous complaints about service issues that TARTA does. TARTA has been non-responsive to concerns, complaints and requests for service improvements for years. And member communities are tired of paying for a 'service' that doesn't meet their needs.

TARTA claims this bill 'threatens their existence.' However, this bill is only a threat if TARTA fails to provide a quality service to member communities, which is the entire point.

Member communities have no leverage in their discussions/negotiations with TARTA. TARTA does what it wants and member communities must live with those decisions and actions. Member communities have no alternative. Unlike other types of services, they're stuck paying for something no matter what.

Under these conditions, and without changes from TARTA, it is likely that six of the nine member jurisdictions would threaten to withdraw if given the chance. If HB 480 passes, however, member jurisdictions wouldn't have to withdraw. The mere threat of withdrawal should be enough to get TARTA to respond to their issues and concerns and, hopefully, force TARTA to make improvements. And if TARTA didn't, then who could blame those communities if they decided to leave?

TARTA has, of course, relied upon the tried and true method of persuasion in this area: predict doom and gloom if the bill passes; threaten that residents who depend upon TARTA will lack the 'essentials of life'; prey upon the fears of the vulnerable - the elderly, the disabled and the children.

TARTA is not all bad, providing TARPS and Call-A-Ride services that are much appreciated by those who use them. TARTA has also provided good service to the Toledo Public Schools for the transport of students during the school year. But the management of the agency has, for decades, turned a deaf ear to the numerous complaints of many.

In fact, March 24th there is a meeting at the Ability Center to discuss many of the unanswered complaints from that organization on behalf of their constituents - complaints that were brought to TARTA board meetings over the past several months but remain unaddressed.

HB 480 provides communities with leverage for their discussions with TARTA. It forces accountability at TARTA and introduces a consequence for the lack thereof. It is only a threat if TARTA refuses to respond and make the changes its customers want.

Rather than fear potential negative outcomes if TARTA doesn't change, all TARTA communities should embrace this bill as an option to force improvements in an agency that has ignored them for years.

TARTA would have no reason to oppose this bill if they were already providing truly effective and efficient service to their member communities. This is their opportunity to improve - and to suffer the consequences if they don't.

1 comment:

Tim Higgins said...

Maggie,

TARTA has apparently rejected accountability to its customers for some time, but that is hardly a surprise from an agency that said that it is more cost efficient to drive big, empty busses than buy smaller busses.

But TARTA got their levy passed and it was back to "business as usual" for them. Isn't that what we do in this city?

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