Bus service brakes for June 30 end
By Maria Amante email@example.com | 648-3076 June 25, 2012 10:17PM
Joe Gonzalez of Hammond, (from left) Lemon Smith of Whiting and the Gonzalez family of Hammond wait for the bus to pull out from the terminal in downtown Hammond, Ind. Tuesday June 12, 2012. The regional bus service is slated to end June 30 unless funding is procured. Joe Gonzalez has been taking the bus since his van broke down. Smith takes the bus to work. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 27, 2012 6:01AM
That’s what Lena Vuie said her life, and the lives of others, is going to be like once the Northwest Indiana Regional Bus Authority ceases operations on Saturday.
Vuie, a 40-year Hammond resident, said people of all backgrounds use the RBA service.
“It’s their only source of transportation,” she said. “There’s something they ought to be able to do.”
Vuie is not the only one who will be affected by the close of the bus service; the RBA counts 30,000 rides each month. Each of the riders will need to seek a new method of transportation after that day.
Tim Brown, executive director of the RBA, said he doesn’t know what to tell people affected by the bus service shutdown.
“I don’t have a good answer for those folks being stranded, left behind, that are being ignored and it’s extremely frustrating,” Brown said. “I don’t have a good answer. I don’t have any straws left in the bag. We tried all the options we could think of, and they have not worked.”
The RBA service is shutting down Saturday because of a lack of funding. Brown said he has explored every possible funding option to no avail.
“We’ve done everything we were asked to do and more, but without a local revenue source, I can’t do anything,” he said. “The true responsibility in providing transit relies on those who have the ability to fund it. I’ve asked, and I’ve been told no.”
The bus system costs about $400,000 a month to operate.
The fare box generates $250,000 annually. Simply increasing the $1.25 fare would not help save the system.
“There’s no way to generate $1.5 million a year through the fare box,” Brown said.
Daryl Lampkins, general manager of the Gary Public Transit Corp. said even if the RBA and GPTC were to merge, the funding problem remains.
“There’s no funding source to regionalize bus transit,” Lampkins, a member of the RBA board, said. “We’re searching for a funding source to make consolidation in regional transit a reality.”
The bus business
The riders aren’t the only ones losing with the RBA shutdown; the RBA employs 35 bus drivers, two maintenance workers and two utility workers.
If a bus service was to return, Brown said it would take six months to get up and running.
“You could not just turn the wheels back on,” he said. “We lease most of the fleet.”
Also, the drivers will take their lives elsewhere to find new work, Brown said.
When the RBA ends service, Brown said it isn’t the end of public transit shutdowns in Northwest Indiana.
“The ramifications of eliminating transit, starting with the RBA in June, is not the end for this county,” he said. “Citizens are gonna lose jobs as a result, people are going to be stranded as a result ... they won’t get those opportunities anymore unless something is done on their behalf. It doesn’t start with us. We are just the beginning of what’s going to be a continual issue in Northwest Indiana. Somebody needs to lead this area and step up and do what’s right — and that’s fund transit.”
Vuie said she lives on disability and cannot afford a car. She has an expired driver’s license, and will need to retake the test when she is able to purchase a vehicle.
“I can’t afford one, but it looks like I’m going to have to try and get one,” she said. “In the meantime, I have no clue as to how I’m gonna get around.”
For Vuie, that means relying more on taxi services, but that is an expensive option, she said.
“Wherever I go, I have to catch the bus,” she said. “It’s gonna be hell.”
Stories of others affected by the loss of bus service follow:
Sandra Jackson depends on the bus every day. Jackson said she holds out hope that Saturday will not be the end of bus services.
“I think we’ll keep our buses,” the Hammond resident said. “Anything’s possible.”
Jackson said she relies on RBA service to travel to the pharmacy to purchase anti-seizure medication, a cross-town journey. Without the bus, she will have to walk the long distance between her home, the pharmacy, the grocery store, and wherever else she needs to go.
She and her husband own a car, but she is unable to drive due to her medical condition.
“I’m worried,” she said. “’Cause everybody has to go on the bus on some point, for a job, the doctor or the grocery store. I’m not the only one that has to ride the buses.”
Stay-at-home dad Bruce Lang has ridden the bus for eight years. On Friday, he was accompanied by his son, Joseph Hellers, 3.
Lang uses the bus regularly as his is a one-car family. For this father-and-son pair, the bus is a valuable resource for emergencies and for errands. During the day, it’s their main form of transit.
“For (Joseph), it’s an adventure,” he said. “We go wherever the day takes us. Today, to River Oaks (shopping center in Calumet City, Ill.). It’s great, instead of being cooped up in the house.”
New mother Jessica Felker, 18, is a cashier at a grocery store, and she uses the bus at least three times a week to get to work and take her child to the doctor’s office.
Life without the bus will be difficult, she said, and she doesn’t know how she will get around when the buses stop running.
“I’ll pay people for rides, but that costs more than the bus,” she said. “And asking for a ride with the baby is hard. Plus, paying people for gas is too expensive. (Bus fare of) $1.25 is in my budget.”
Jermaine Jeffries relocated to Hammond recently, but still works at a Chicago office. The shutdown of the RBA, without a way to get to his job, has him debating a return to Chicago.
He sold his car to move to Hammond and figures he won’t be able to afford a new one until the fall.
“I came here because it was more peaceful and diverse,” Jeffries said. “But I take the bus five days a week to go to work, sometimes on the weekend. It’s a big blow.”
Howard R. Wilson
Howard R. Wilson, an RBA driver who knows the names of his riders, says he’s made a career as a commercial driver since getting his CDL license 17 years ago.
What’s next for him, however, still remains to be determined.
“The door’s always open for drivers,” he said. “My plan B is to get back with the (Chicago Transit Authority). They’re my people.”
For Wilson, who is single with grown children, the loss of his job doesn’t give him as much anxiety as the riders feel.
“The powers that be ... I don’t see how they can let people down like that,” he said. “It’s very selfish ... People are saying, ‘How are we going to get to work the next day?’ I’m just not feeling good about that — not just me not having a job, but the consequences that might be involved in the domino effect with these other jobs.”
Those jobs belong to his riders, the people he interacts with daily. He said the majority of people were good customers and that riding together everyday, they got to know one another.
Wilson said he has a job offer he’ll be able to fall back on but that does not start until 2013. In the meantime, he thinks he can survive off unemployment compensation.
“But I’m not the kind of person who likes unemployment,” he said. “I’d rather work to make money”