TARTA officials dedicate new paratransit facility
By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa
Feb. 24, 2012: The Toledo Area Regional Paratransit Service unveiled its new $7.7 million garage near downtown Toledo Friday morning, a facility close enough to the Broadway Corridor that it already is having a significant impact on the disabled Latino community.
TARPS offers door-to-door service specifically for people with disabilities, which carries them to work, to school, to medical appointments and other programs. The paratransit service has seen demand more than double from approximately 100,000 passengers in 2006 to more than 270,000 last year. TARPS also has doubled its number of buses to 80 over the same time frame.
“It’s a long time coming, but it addresses a critical need in our community, which is accommodating the growth in our TARPS ridership,” said Jim Gee, executive director of the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority (TARTA). “This allows us to have a place dedicated to TARPS, which houses all the maintenance, scheduling, dispatching, storage, and allows us to plan for future growth.”
TARTA contracted out its TARPS service for nearly two decades, but brought it under direct management three-and-a-half years ago. Since then, TARPS buses shared space with the transit authority’s larger fleet of buses at its main garage. The new site gives TARPS its own permanent home for more than 100 employees at the site of the former Page Dairy near the Amtrak station.
“We were on Central Avenue before, but we were shoehorned in there,” said Gee. “We really had a business need to meet that future growth.”
Tim Harrington, executive director of the Ability Center of Greater Toledo, touted the new TARPS facility as a related service that will allow his agency to better meet the needs of the community’s growing disabled population. He pointed to the fact that some Ability Center staff and programs are now housed at Adelante, Inc. to better assist more than 30 disabled Latinos.
“We realized that we were not making any penetration into the Latino community that we wanted,” Harrington said. “We had the unique opportunity to place some of our independent living staff within Adelante and it has allowed us to reach a whole new sector of the disability population that we’ve been trying to find.”
TARPS allows the Ability Center to reach the central city more effectively from its offices on Monroe St. in Sylvania. Harrington admitted his agency only began serving Latinos about two years ago, but expects those numbers to only continue to grow once word spreads more.
“The core of independent living is to be able to get around your community,” Harrington said. “So transportation is pivotal if we want people with disabilities to live maximum independent- living lives. Transportation is not solely about getting back and forth to the doctor. It’s really about accessing all this great community has to offer.”
“We have more disabled people in the community and demographics suggest it’s just going to keep happening,” said Gee. “Baby Boomers reaching retirement age, having age-related disabilities—that service is going to continue to grow.”
TARTA hosted a public open house and a dedication ceremony attended by more than 200 people. Gee publicly thanked U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo) for helping to secure $7.7 million in federal grants that paid for most of the facility’s construction. The 80,000-square-foot structure houses a garage area that holds up to 104 buses, a maintenance area with five service bays, administrative offices, a locker room and drivers’ lounge.
“There are some people who say ‘Let everybody be on their own, just let them float out there in society,’” said Ms. Kaptur. “Well, you know what we say in this community? We’re a pro-family community. We believe that every life of every citizen counts, and we want us to work together as a community to make life better.”
Congresswoman Kaptur then openly criticized opponents of public transit as “people that want to take us back to the 19th century.” She cited a growing sentiment in Washington DC that public transportation is becoming a drain on the federal budget.
Congresswoman Kaptur also promoted the TARPS building as another step in rebuilding the Broadway Corridor to its former prominence as a gateway to the downtown area.
“You can imagine a time, as we improve Broadway, with some of the reuses along Broadway, we improve the riverfront through the reuse of some of our buildings, where piece-by-piece, we are putting back together our community and leaving it in better condition than we found it,” Ms. Kaptur said.
TARTA officials touted the TARPS garage as a “green” facility, pointed out features including skylights, solar panels on the roof, “earth-sheltering” for energy efficiency—which means the building was excavated into an existing hillside—as well as geothermal heating and cooling.
“Those geothermal wells go deeper than Lake Erie,” Gee boasted.