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TARTA exec says tokens likely to stay

The following article, written by David Patch, appeared Wednesday, May 13, 2015 in The Toledo Blade. Karen Wu (ABLE) was quoted in the article regarding Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority’s decision to increase fares by about 25 percent. Read the intro below, and the full article on The Blade's website.

TARTA exec says tokens likely to stay; Says social services groups' desire justifies the expense

TARTA's top administrator retreated Tuesday from plans to end sales of bus tokens as part of a fare-increase plan, a decision that representatives of several social-service agencies cheered during the first of two hearings about the plan.

While speakers still asked the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority to reconsider its proposal to boost fares by about 25 percent, General Manager James Gee said the alternative is service cuts that would be at least as painful for riders.

"The rate increase is not set in stone, but we're looking at an ugly, ugly budget without it," Mr. Gee told about 50 people in the meeting room at Toledo Area Regional Paratransit Service headquarters on Knapp Street during the lunchtime hearing. "Our service is pretty lean as it is. Hurting service is probably worse for customers now than raising fares."

A dozen people attended an evening session.

The proposal calls for TARTA's base bus fare, now lowest among urban Ohio transit systems at $1, to rise to $1.25, its paratransit fare to rise from $2 to $2.50, and all other fares and pass prices to increase by about 25 percent.

In announcing the proposal in late March, Mr. Gee said he would recommend elimination of bus tokens, now sold in rolls of 25 for $22.50, or a 10 percent discount off full fare.

Tokens, he said at the time, account for only about 6 percent of TARTA trips, and programming new fareboxes to be installed in authority buses next year to accept "specialty coins" would cost extra.

But on Tuesday, the transit manager said the strong desire among social-service agencies that distribute bus tokens to clients justifies the additional farebox expense. Mr. Gee said he did not know exactly how much that expense will be.

Representatives of the Re-entry Coalition of Northwest Ohio, which assists former prison inmates in re-acclimating to community life, were among those who said they had attended to plead for retaining tokens. They said tokens are easy to distribute and use, and thanked Mr. Gee for his decision.

Lisa Stewart, a wellness specialist at the Thomas M. Wernert Center, said tokens also are convenient for mental-health clients who already need detailed training just to ride the bus by themselves and "may not have the skills to transition from a token system to a [fare-] card system."

But many, including Karen Wu, a lawyer with Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, also urged the transit authority to find a way to mitigate the hardship a fare increase will cause for poor people.

"This disproportionately affects people with low incomes. They don't own cars. That's why they use TARTA," Ms. Wu said before suggesting the transit authority look into establishing a fare discount for riders who can somehow be qualified as low-income.

Veronica Murphy, a member of the boards of RCNO and the Bethany House women's shelter, said a 25-percent fare increase would be "really very detrimental" to the homeless and needy as well as agencies that serve them, because "it takes money out of other budgetary areas."

"We have struggled to make it nine years" without a fare increase, Mr. Gee responded. "Any time we touch the fares, it hurts people. Any time we cut the service, it hurts people."

>> Read the rest of the article on The Blade's website.