Asking voters to approve a tax increase in the midst of an economic recession is not something we do lightly, but in Trumbull County, the elderly, the disabled, students and others would be forced to depend on family, friends and even the kindness of strangers for transportation if a 0.5-mill, five-year transit levy is rejected on Tuesday.
That’s because the Niles-Trumbull Transit, which was started in 2003 by Niles Mayor Ralph Infante, will cease operations on Jan. 1. In 2010, the transit provided 64,249 trips: 18,922 for senior citizens, 21,013 for the disabled, 16,131 for students, and 8,183 for other residents. This year, the Trumbull County commissioners authorized use of $635,000 from the county-wide senior-citizen levy to provide $2 one-way rides to senior citizens.
Niles-Trumbull Transit offers rides to senior citizens, people with disabilities and children age 2 to 12 for $1.50 per one-way trip for residents of Niles, Howland, Liberty, McDonald, Cortland, Warren, Girard, Lordstown, Hubbard Township, Bazetta Township, and Weathersfield Township. Those communities pay Niles-Trumbull Transit a membership fee, but the membership fee would be eliminated if the county-wide levy is approved.
A ride costs $2 for a senior-citizen in non-member communities, and the cost can be as high as $8 per ride for other riders.
The need for public transportation is plain to see, which is why we urge passage of the transit levy in the general election. It would generate $1.7 million annually, and would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $17.50 a year. That money would allow the county to expand the service by 27,000 trips for seniors annually, including 13,000 now provided by the Trumbull County Office of Elderly Affairs.
Mayor Infante has been joined by Warren Mayor Michael O’Brien in urging residents to support the creation of the county-wide system.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, has said the new transit service will attract millions of dollars in matching funds from Washington and Columbus, just as Niles-Trumbull Transit did. Ryan has been successful in funneling millions of the dollars to the Western Reserve Transit Authority, which provides transit service in Mahoning County.
While Valley residents should welcome the infusion of federal dollars, such funding from Washington is no longer guaranteed. That’s because the White House and Congress are working to slash the budget deficit.
The uncertainty demands that local officials explore different options for funding public services. One that we have advocated for quite some time is the creation of a metropolitan transit service that would encompass the transit authorities in the region, including western Pennsylvania. As we argued in this space, the total ridership is less than many major metropolitan areas, and yet each of the entities spends millions of dollars in operating costs.
Public entities at all levels are being asked to find new ways of providing services. Regional cooperation is no longer a topic for some theoretical discussion.
In Trumbull County, a board created by the commissioners to oversee the new transit system will determine who gets the contract. Members should have no misunderstanding of their role in managing public dollars. They must commit to an open, transparent process whereby no one company has an advantage.