Wednesday, March 06, 2013

New TARTA hub won't spur revitalized downtown

The Toledo Regional Transit Authority (TARTA) and the City of Toledo would like to build a new hub for transfers on the bus system. The cost would be $24 million - at least, that's what they estimate today, though it is certain to be higher by the 2016 completion date.

The Toledo Blade thinks this is a wonderful idea because it would spur revitalization of the downtown area. They write in their editorial:

"...the proposed transit center could be a key element of downtown Toledo’s revitalization. The project is worth pursuing."

How many times have we heard this? Portside, The Docks, the Marina Project, a new sports arena, Promenade Park...the list of publicly funded projects that will revitalize our downtown seems to be endless. And yet, here we are with yet another.

We are constantly being told that *this* will be the one. This is all we need and we'll return downtown Toledo to its former glory days. And yes, in case you were wondering, this does qualify for stuck-on-stupid designation.

Not surprisingly, these projects never actually do any of the 'revitalizing' the promoters promise they will.

This is not to say that some of the projects are not good ideas - nor that they are not successful. But many, like the new Huntington arena which is successful so far, do not create NEW spending or growth. They just redistribute it from other establishments and areas.

Both Huntington Center and 5/3 Field have brought people to the downtown area. Eateries and other types of establishments have followed. But for every new place around these two facilities that has opened, others (perhaps multiple others) have closed.

There is no net gain in the county in terms of number of new businesses, employment or spending as a result of having these two new sports venues.

Sales taxes, which are key indicator of spending in the county, did not see increases as a result of these two facilities, either.

So what makes anyone think that a new TARTA bus station is going to somehow miraculously change the current activity in downtown Toledo?

Are people suddenly going to start taking the bus just so they can stop at the new hub? (I'll pause here so you can catch your breath from laughing so hard...)

The plan is to get the federal government to pay for 80% of the funding. Yes, TARTA and city officials think our broke, out-of-money, heavily-indebted federal government can pony up the dough for this boondoggle. You can pick yourself up off the floor now.

Will any special requirements or mandates come with any funding they might be able to eke out? Probably yes - and it will most likely be in the form of ridership.

Would TARTA revamp their routes to force more people into transfers downtown? That's already the number one concern from suburban communities - that they are forced to spend unnecessary time on a bus so it an come downtown before going back out to another suburban community (the whole wheel/spokes/hub concept). In fact, that is why many of the communities are opting out of TARTA - because it doesn't meet the needs of the suburban riders in terms of direct routes to where they want to go.

How many more communities would opt out if federal funding for a new transfer station would result in more routes being shunted to a downtown hub? No matter how nice they make it, I doubt it would be enough to justify extra time on a bus for a suburban rider.

Clearly a new bus station hub is not going to be a "key element of downtown's revitalization," no matter how much The Blade, local politicians or the woefully inadequate TARTA board may hope it will be.

The only thing that will revitalize anything in this city is the private sector. A thriving private sector will hire people who will then have funds to spend, generating economic activity that is in addition - in in place of - the spending they are already doing.

And the sooner the editorial board at the paper and the local politicians acknowledge this FACT, the sooner we'll see true economic develop and revitalization.

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