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Wednesday, March 7, 2007 06:36 pm

Bus start

Springfield gets rolling on night bus service

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Untitled Document After more than two years, the wheels on the push to bring evening bus service to Springfield are finally going ’round and ’round. Urbitran, a New York-based engineering firm hired by the Illinois Department of Transportation, concludes in a preliminary needs assessment that offering night service to Springfield bus riders is feasible — and also necessary. The 41-page study, paid for with a portion of a $375,000 federal grant, also finds that the most likely beneficiaries would be low-income individuals, people with disabilities, senior citizens, third-shift workers, and students. However, there is no timetable for when the project would begin — and additional funding would still be needed. Still, Jane Ford, a spokeswoman for the Central Illinois Organizing Project, the group that has led the campaign, calls these initial findings a “giant step forward.”
To prepare Phase I of the report, Urbitran collected questionnaires from approximately 465 Springfield residents, Ford says. The firm also conducted drop-in sessions at transfer stations and met with officials from the Lawrence Education Center, Lincoln Land Community College, and the University of Illinois at Springfield. More than 35 other stakeholders, including the Springfield Police Department, social-  service agencies, the Springfield Housing Authority, and bus drivers who could be responsible for the additional routes, also offered input. Fifty years have gone by since local buses carried passengers after dark. Currently service at ends at 6 p.m. Renewed interest in night service emerged in 2004, when CIOP leaned on the local transit authority to explore the possibility of restoring evening routes. The next year CIOP, a regional faith-based community organization with affiliates in several central-Illinois cities, found that Springfield lagged behind similarly sized capital cities already offering night service. Another 175 Springfield residents attended a public hearing in November to discuss the issue. Then, last month, at a meeting of the advisory committee examining the issue, which consists of representatives from CIOP, the Springfield Mass Transit District, IDOT, the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, and the Springfield-Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission, reviewed the needs assessment and began looking toward Phase II of the study. Ford says the final report on Phase I is expected to be completed by the end of March. She says the next step is to establish alternatives, or parameters for night bus service. Phase III will address the issue of financing. With the federal funds that have been received, Ford estimates, SMTD can afford to offer three or four evening routes. Richard Fix, SMTD’s executive director, says the grant money can be used to cover operationing expenses, such as paying drivers, but not to purchase equipment or fuel. Although plans for a $14 million to $18 million transportation hub are in the works, that’s still a few years away, and any money received for its construction would be earmarked for capital expenditures, Fix says. The city of Springfield doesn’t have the financial resources to contribute anything, says City Hall communications director Ernie Slottag. Nor is it likely that the state, which provides the SMTD with 54 percent of its funding, will be much help. During next week’s transportation lobby day at the statehouse, transit districts from around Illinois will plead their cases to lawmakers. Fix says he plans to work on securing additional funds to cover day-to-day expenses but won’t seek extra funds for the evening routes: “We can ask for all what we want, but we’re only going to get what they’ve got.”  

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com
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