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Thursday, April 15, 2010 12:52 pm

Springfield bus routes undergo major changes

SMTD asks for public input on overhaul

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PHOTO BY DAVID HINE

Margaret Wood knows when her disabled 47-year-old son, Gary, is supposed to be home from work. Gary rides the same bus to work every day, so when he didn’t come home one evening, Margaret Wood became concerned.

“I was out looking for him (Gary) when he didn’t come home in time,” Wood said, recalling how Kerry McCombs, a route supervisor with the Springfield Mass Transit Authority, quickly found Gary and personally drove him to meet Wood.

“Without Mr. McCombs, I don’t know how long I would have been looking…,” Wood says. “Most of the bus drivers are really understanding and helpful to the handicapped. We really appreciate it.”

But Gary’s bus route may soon change, and Margaret Wood isn’t sure the change will be for the better. She voiced her concern April 7 at a public hearing held by the Springfield Mass Transit Authority to get riders’ input on proposed bus route changes.

When he started his job 17 years ago, Gary was trained to use the current bus route, Margaret Wood explains, and the proposed change could cause confusion and a longer walk.

“It’s very hard on a handicapped person to keep oriented and to get to work on time,” Wood explains.

Thomas Whitman, a consultant with engineering firm Perteet, Inc., leads the study that will overhaul nearly all of the SMTD’s bus routes. Even after conducting 600 rider surveys, driver interviews and “breathing a lot of diesel” while studying bus routes, Whitman says it’s impossible to please everyone, but they do try.

“One of the biggest challenges of doing this type of work is trying to weigh the balance of everybody’s needs, to make sure that you can create something that you know will meet some of the unmet needs and impact the least amount of people,” Whitman says.

The study gathered data on ridership and unmet needs within the community, Whitman says, to maximize utilization, reduce redundant routes and provide bus service to places that previous had none, such as the new Wal-Mart off of South Sixth Street.

“The overall goal of this was to adjust the system to serve the new growing areas, make adjustments to routes that are not performing as well as they could and come up with a new system concept that would serve not only Springfield’s needs today, but also in the next five to ten years as well,” Whitman says.

Effective June 7, six routes will run modified courses, while five routes will be discontinued and served by the modified routes or one of two new routes. On Aug. 23, four more routes will be modified, three routes will be dropped and three new routes will be added. Maps of the proposed changes are available at www.SMTD.org.

 Linda Tisdale, executive director of the SMTD, says some routes are being dropped because of low ridership.

 “The ones that are staying have performed pretty well, but they needed a little bit of adjustment to address new areas of employment or to eliminate sections of the route that weren’t performing well,” Tisdale says. “They’ve been modified to pick up areas where we think they will pick up ridership.

“The whole system is basically being changed in some way,” she says. “It is a major change for Springfield mass transit. … Any [additional] changes at this point should be minor, and I want to make sure the public knows where we’re going to be on June 7 and then on Aug. 23, so I don’t have people standing out there, waiting for a bus on a route that isn’t there any more. I don’t want anybody left behind.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

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