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A ticket to ride

Written by Mike Siroky. Posted in Featured

Published on February 28, 2012 with No Comments

In this era of rising gas costs, workers have come to rely on bus routes, where available, and local agencies are trying to supply more access to more riders.

In Lake County, the philosophy has become applied.  In Porter County, a lot of the mass transit plan is still theory.

Yet those who will make it a reality haven’t lost sight of the idea a true region bus service has to start somewhere–and the time for that is now.

The Indiana Regional Bus Authority (RBA) is located in Portage. Tim Brown is its director.  Ken Dallmeyer is the planning and transit director.

At the start of the year, the RBA was able to restore two lines in Hammond, the Red Line (Calumet-Hohman) and the Green Line (Indianapolis Boulevard), with a $1 million federal grant ($1.4 million was requested). The money should fund the first half of the year.

If you are on a relay of sorts to get to Chicago’s southeast side, these routes will work.  The restoration of the routes helped. They had been cut back when funding ran out in 2011.

“The cuts hurt our customers,” Dallmeyer said.  “We saw a drop in use and a large upswing in complaints because the consequences of delays and missed connections could include losing one’s job.”

Dallmeyer said they have been able to restore the service temporarily with a demonstration grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, secured with the assistance of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC). Complaints already are down and they expect the number of rides people take on buses to resume climbing. Gary Public Transportation Corporation plans to make similar restorations later this month using the same source, he added.

But, he said, the grants are just “tiny bandages” and more or less highlight the overall problem of public transit in the Region.

Unfortunately, a stalemate over another issue in the General Assembly has stalled other bills, one of which, House Bill 1073, would have outlined a funding plan in Indianapolis that could be applied in the Region.

The bill is dormant.

“We do not have to start from scratch,” Dallmeyer said.  “But we do have to move fast because the underpinnings of public transportation are failing for the RBA and others.”

Gary Public Transportation Corporation will use almost $2.8 million in grants it won to restore every-half-hour service on Broadway, south of 61st Avenue, as well as adding new routes connecting Griffith to Ridge Road via Burr Street.

Both those services were scheduled to roll at the end of January.

Gary also will use some of the money to restore night service, upgrading the daily service end time from 6:30 p.m. to 8 or 10 p.m., depending on the route.

Brown started with the RBA in 2005 as a board member. As executive director he coordinates 21 board members appointed to represent the communities of Lake and Porter County.

While actual bus lines exist in Lake County, “we help in operations and also in capital for Porter,” Brown said.

Examples would be assists for aging and community services and the V-Line as well as buses for Opportunity Enterprises.

The city of Valparaiso was awarded $140,000 in another grant to expand its ChicaGo Dash commuter service to Chicago’s Loop. A fourth bus in that line is planned, but not until the second half of the year.

Another immediate goal would be to help arrange on-call bus services for handicapped or senior riders to get to meetings, medical care and prescription pickups.  Such ride services could be put in place until regular bus lines could be funded and put into operation.

A demand response bus or other transportation service often mandates calling up to 78 hours ahead if a planned trip, Brown said. Medicare changed the reimbursement to $8 for a one-way trip reimbursement (from $10). That eliminated many taxi services.

What transportation has been arranged in Lake County is often filled quickly by dialysis patients, especially along the U.S. 30 corridor, leaving little room for others with needs.

“We are increasing our help in (Porter) county,” Brown said.  “(NIRPC) has some money available. We focus on planning new startups and with capital services.”

NIRPC is helping Valparaiso coordinate its grant applications.

The V-Line, for example, put in capital requests for shelters as well as new buses.

For more information on the Regional Bus Authority, call 219-762-4767 or visit www.rba-nwi.org.

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About Mike Siroky

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All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in the above excellent column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Mike Siroky is a writer and editor. He is a native of Northwest Indiana. He has worked in media from coast to coast. To contact Mike, email mikel@the chronicleNWI.com

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