Imagine what it would be like not to be able to jump in your car and drive anywhere you want to go whenever you want. Imagine that your age, a disability or your finances prevent you from driving and how that would restrict your independence and ability to function in every day life. That is the plight of many residents who rely on the Allen County RTA as their lifeline to work, medical appointments, shopping, and community events.
While most people only think of the big buses that run primarily in Lima and the surrounding townships, most people don’t realize that the smaller RTA Uplift vans travel and transport all over Allen County. In 2018, the RTA provided 46,671 trips for elderly residents and persons with disabilities from every corner of the county. Currently 47% of all RTA riders are elderly or persons with disabilities who cannot drive. That is a fact that very few people know.
Allen County RTA also provides 1,475 transports a month for special needs children from five school districts – Shawnee, Elida, Bath, Bluffton and Lima City. Every day they take hearing-impaired children to Findlay for schooling, children with Autism to The Center for Autism & Dyslexia and children with developmental or physical disabilities to their home schools or other learning centers.
On May 7, the Allen County RTA is requesting a very small sales tax increase on the ballot. The sales tax increase is for one tenth of one percent, which is equal to 2 cents on a $20 purchase. And the good thing is that since it is a sales tax it does not affect income or property taxes or the cost of rent, utilities or groceries. And while it is a very small sales tax increase, it is enough for RTA to maintain current services as well as bring back evening and weekend hours and three routes that were cut when their last levy failed.
Recognizing the importance of the Allen County RTA services to residents, seven mayors have voiced their support. The City Councils of Lima and Delphos have voted to endorse the levy, as has the Bluffton Village Council. This may be the first time that officials of our county have come together with such a unified voice of support.
When the Allen County officials learned that in 2018 the Allen County RTA Uplift vans made 1,550 Delphos trips, 1,303 Bluffton trips, 927 Harrod trips, 835 Elida trips, 430 Spencerville trips, 468 Shawnee trips, 430 Spencerville trips, and 419 Beaverdam trips, they chose to support this levy that is so vital to their residents. In Bath Township, the numbers for 2018 are even higher, 12,701, because in addition to elderly residents and persons with disabilities, the Uplift vans also transport workers there.
So, why does RTA need funding? Public transportation relies on federal and state money. In the past five years, that funding to the RTA has been cut by 30%. And while the funding has decreased, the need for services in Allen County has increased. RTA needs a reliable, sustainable source of local funding to continue the level of services they offer now and to bring back the vital services they had to cut. Not only that, but the grants on which RTA relies, require a fifty percent match. If there is no local funding to provide that match, the RTA loses that money. And a vicious cycle begins. The funding gets cut which causes RTA to cut services which lowers their ridership numbers which determine the amount of their grant allocations.
In 2017, before RTA cut their services, they provided nearly 400,000 total rides throughout Allen County, which included 1,000 wheel chair rides a month. It is easy to see that there is no lack of need for these critical services.
This May 7th Allen County RTA vote is important for all of us, whether we ride or not. It is a workforce issue: currently RTA provides over a thousand rides for employees each month. Those workers pay taxes, which add to our tax base. It is an economic issue: the people who ride RTA are on their way to medical appointment and stores. They are riding to buy goods and services from local businesses. It is a quality of life issue: having access to safe, clean transportation gives people the independence to live fully as contributing members of our Allen County community. Please consider the importance of the Allen County RTA services and vote yes on May 7th.
Leslie Rigali is part of Citizens for Allen County RTA.