On Nov. 8, Trumbull County voters will decide whether to approve a half-mill levy for public transit services. Before voting ''YES,'' taxpayers need to see the value of this expenditure to improve our region and its economy.
A viable public transit system is an investment in our workforce, helping unemployed and underemployed workers by getting them to job sites and job skills training. Reliable transportation can make the difference between working productive jobs or reliance on public assistance or ''welfare.'' For part-time/entry-level workers, wages do not keep pace with the rising expense of driving, with car repairs and repeatedly rising gasoline prices.
Major metropolitan cities provide subsidized public transit because it enriches their local economies with efficient transportation while reducing traffic and parking congestion. Our region has enough combined population to be considered a major market and should be able to compete in attracting businesses to invest here.
A few years ago, I was contacted by a company from a major metropolitan city that was looking for its next market acquisition. They planned to build a workforce of more than 100 Mahoning Valley residents. In addition to finding a centralized office to lease, they specifically wanted to know about our region's public transit system, as well as our road and freeway network. They asked for transit bus route maps and were very interested in the Western Reserve Transit Authority's (WRTA) levy that was then on the ballot. As soon as this levy failed, that company dropped its interest in our region.
When the WRTA lost funding and cut its Route 422 bus route into Niles and Warren, a large number of call center workers from Mahoning County were left stranded without transportation and were forced to give up their jobs. Since then, WRTA got a Mahoning County quarter-percent sales tax approved and received additional grant funding, enabling WRTA to restore the ''Warren Express'' 422 route as well as the Belmont Avenue route into Liberty's commercial district.
Now Trumbull County must make a critical decision about continuing to provide transit service to all of our cities, villages and townships. Not being a member of WRTA, Trumbull County's transit system started with Niles Mayor Ralph Infante forming the Niles Trumbull Transit System (NiTTS) in 2003, after the Trumbull County commissioners (all of whom have been replaced by our current commissioners) closed the Trumbull Area Coordinated Transportation (TACT) system.
NiTTS proved a popular success with its ''demand response'' business model. Soon other communities joined as contributing participants, including Warren, Cortland, Girard, Howland, Hubbard, Liberty, McDonald and Weathersfield. Our region owes a debt of gratitude to Mayor Ralph Infante and the City of Niles for accepting the challenge of providing this service, which has now outgrown Niles' ability to advance the funds needed to obtain the Federal grants that support this service.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) offers funding on a reimbursement basis, requiring the transit provider to first pay to provide the service. A source of local funding is needed to qualify for these funds, so the Trumbull commissioners have placed a half-mill levy on the ballot and appointed the Trumbull Transit Board to keep this public transit system operating. I attended the Oct. 3 meeting of this new board and was impressed by the board members' level of transportation experience and commitment to getting the job done right from the start.
FTA funding is something that we cannot afford to lose. The FTA has combined Trumbull with Mahoning and Mercer County, Pa., as one metropolitan region, with each county receiving a share of FTA's funding. I urge Trumbull County and WRTA to draw upon each other's strengths to provide quality transit service to the people of our large and diverse region.
First, Trumbull County needs to pass a levy to be able to provide any service.
Pirko is a Weathersfield resident. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.