PERRYSBURG – With a total lack of public transportation in the city, most residents are making do and trying to band together to get their necessary rides – with the hope that a revamped transit levy might pass in May.
A list of 14 groups, organizations and agencies that might provide transit assistance was posted to the City of Perrysburg website earlier this month, but some of the agencies on the list have not received many calls – if any – from city residents in need of a ride.
United Way’s Wood County director Nick Kulik said his organization has received just one or two calls in that regard, indicating that “I know that we try to put some transportation information on our 211 database system, but as you know, (transportation) has been something that’s been an issue in Wood County for a long time.”
A lack of Perrysburg calls was also echoed by Wood County Job and Family Services Director David Wigent.
“No one’s called me about that,” said Wood County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Director Tom Clemons. “And I’m very interested in it because I worry about it. We have a lot of people with mental illness that don’t have ready access to transportation to get to services.”
“Transportation is always a barrier,” said Melanie Stretchbery, superintendent for the Wood County Board of Developmental Disabilities. “We have three or four people that relied on (transportation) in Perrysburg proper, that were relying on TARPS to provide transportation to and from work.”
“These are primarily (people) that are working evenings and weekends. And those we find the most difficult to get them to work.”
The transit saga had been ongoing at a steady pace for more than 10 years, but heated up in March when Perrysburg residents voted to exit the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority (TARTA), of which it had been a member since the early 1970s. The impetus for leaving were complaints from council that residents simply weren’t receiving the requisite amount of service for the nearly $1.3 million in property tax assessments it was paying. An amendment in a biennial budget bill fostered by State Rep. Randy Gardner permitted the vote to take place.
Some residents and some on council, however, stated their concerns that the city was leaving TARTA without a clear plan for the future. Spearheaded by Councilman Todd Grayson, an effort was put under way to conduct a transit study in the city to determine its public transport needs. That led to a request for proposals and the ultimate temporary hiring of St. Louis-based transit firm Ride Right LLC to provide service in the city after TARTA left in late September.
The hope was that Ride Right, who gradually increased its services between September and November, would then be fully contracted by the city after residents approved a 1.45-mill transit levy on the November ballot. Contracts to that effect, contingent on the passage of the levy, were approved by council.
However, it was not to be – the measure was defeated by fewer than 200 votes in the election and, as a result, there was no funding available for transportation, which ended on Nov. 27. The failure of the levy has been blamed on vague ballot language and confusion amongst the populace as to just what kind of service they were voting for.
Last week, the Health, Sanitation and Public Utilities Committee of council, chaired by Grayson, voted to ask council to put a .8-mill transit levy on the May ballot. If passed, the measure would generate about $446,000 each year, enough to pay for services similar to those Ride Right provided throughout the early fall, with a few extras additions including new vehicles and morning and evening commuter routes.
The matter is to be considered by council in early January.
However, the new levy won’t assist those in need of rides in the meantime.
Things are going, in his own words, “lousy” for Gil Lutz, a Perrysburg resident who is visually-impaired and gets around with the aid of a seeing-eye dog. Lutz is co-chair of Perrysburg 4 Transit, a group that supported passage of the levy, and has been an outspoken proponent of transit in the city. Lutz relied on TARPS, and later Ride Right, for his travels in the area. Now, however, his mobility is detrimentally reduced – at a November meeting he stated that with the end of transit in Perrysburg he “will have the least amount of independence that I have had in my entire life.”
“I basically am grounded,” he said in a recent interview. “I have almost zero ability to be able to get around.”
“It’s not fun,” he added.
Lutz is involved with a group of area residents that volunteer rides, “but that’s difficult,” he said.
“I’ve attempted to use the Wood County Area Office on Aging, and I’m kind of getting nowhere. (Lack of transportation) just makes it infinitely more complicated.”
Denise Niese, executive director of the Wood County Committee on Aging, noted that the agency has “set parameters” for the transportation services they are able to provide.
“We are the transport of last resort for medical transportation, and we don’t do any other type of transportation,” she explained.
“For the medical transport, again, we encourage the folks to check with neighbors, family, friends, church and all that. We have two medical escort drivers to serve the entire county.”
The agency is able to work with consumers on scheduling transport to appointments and other areas, “but we are limited.”
Councilwoman Maria Ermie is among those helping to foster the volunteer driving effort in the city.
“There have been people who have stepped forward and said, ‘I can give a ride here and there to somebody in need,’” she said. However, she emphasized that this is just a temporary fix, and not a sustainable program.
“Obviously it’s not something that people want to do forever and ever, but to help people through this gap period, hoping that the levy will pass in May.”
“It’s been heartwarming to see the people who sincerely care and want to help those who have no other way of getting around.”
“Right now we have about 10 (volunteers). Obviously, you know, the individuals in need of transportation aren’t getting everywhere they need or want to go, but at least they are able to get to a doctor’s appointment and shopping. It’s a good stop-gap measure.”