No weekend buses, steeper fares and a host of other unpleasant changes were outlined Monday by the Pace transit service during a public hearing intended to both inform and stir customers in Forest Park.
The public transportation agency is facing an enormous shortfall in its operating budget, according to Pace officials, and anything short of an $81 million allocation from state legislators in Springfield will bring about the types of changes that riders don’t want to see. Pace’s 2007 budget presented to the Regional Transportation Authority was good for only six months, meaning the remainder of the year is dependent on state funding. Services for handicapped riders, suburban routes, weekend service and labor are all on the chopping block.
“The impact for Forest Park will mostly be on the weekends,” Judi Kulm, a Pace spokesperson said.
Some 70 people attended the hearing, including a large contingency of handicapped residents. Many of those individuals complained that because they cannot drive themselves they rely on public transportation.
Sharon Palmer, a member of Forest Park’s Progressive Center on Madison Street, questioned the priorities of Pace officials.
“Since we seem to have to endure all the problems, I was wondering if any of the executives have taken a pay cut,” Palmer, who is wheelchair bound, said.
According to Pace, routes traveling on Roosevelt Road, Madison Street and Harlem Avenue would all cease on Saturdays and Sundays as part of an effort to save money. By cutting weekend bus service on 83 different bus routes, an estimated 2.2 million rides will be lost but the agency will save itself some $7.5 million, according to Pace’s website.
Compared to statistics from one year ago, almost 17 percent more people used the route 301 bus on Roosevelt Road on Saturdays in May of 2007. On Sundays, the number of riders had increased by nearly 14 percent.
Along Madison Street, the number of riders on route 303 increased by more than 21 percent on Saturdays in May of 2007 compared to last year. Route 320 passengers increased more than 15 percent.
Though use of Pace’s weekend bus service in Forest Park has seen an overall increase in the last year, several routes did see a decrease in the number of riders. Fewer passengers are taking advantage of the route 305 and 308 service on Sundays as well as the 310 service on Saturdays, according to the agency’s own numbers.
Village Commissioner and Chamber of Commerce President Mark Hosty said it’s tough to tell whether those swings involve Forest Park residents, but regardless, the community would likely suffer if public transportation services are cut.
“I hope they don’t cut them,” Hosty said. “They’re used.”
It’s difficult to immediately predict how a reduction in bus service to Forest Park might impact local business owners, but Hosty said the larger concern should be for the weekend workforce, not weekend shoppers.
“The people taking the bus are the ones who need it the most to get to work,” Hosty said. “Recreational use isn’t my biggest worry; it’s people being able to get to their jobs.”
Proposed fare increases for Pace passengers are expected to bring in some $7.8 million in new revenue. Those increases include charging $2 for all local and regular fares as of Sept. 1, a 10 percent hike in Vanpool fares, and a 25 percent hike in Dial-A-Ride fares to a minimum of $2.
As a result of the proposed fare increases and service cuts, Pace is estimating some 5.1 million fewer customers will ride the bus. That figure accounts for 13 percent of the transit agency’s total customers.
“I’m one of those riders,” Craig Hunter said Monday. “If I can’t ride on the weekends, I’m not going to be riding Pace at all.”