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RBA buses make last stops

'That's how I get around' said Darlene Hammond who did not wish giver her last name. 'Never learned how drive'

"That's how I get around," said Darlene of Hammond, who did not wish to giver her last name. "Never learned how to drive," she said as she rode on the Orange A line of the Easygo bus in Hammond, Ind. Saturday June 30, 2012. Saturday was the last day of the RBA's Easygo service. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 2, 2012 10:42AM



HAMMOND — On the last day of operation for the EasyGo bus system, driver Anthony Dickerson spent the first few minutes of his Saturday afternoon shift as he always does — checking to make sure the bus was in good repair.

He ran an eye over the tires to make sure the pressure was good, checked to make sure the lugnuts were tight and gave the bus a once over to make sure the outside had a clean appearance. He lowered and raised the wheelchair lift, checked to make sure the radio worked and that there were no interior warning lights on. His biggest concern is always making sure the air brake works, because an issue with that can lead to serious problems, he said.

“So that way I can have a safe ride,” Dickerson said.

Once he was done, he donned a bright green safety vest and started his route, the Orange A, from the Food 4 Less parking lot on 165th Avenue in Hammond.

Despite the normalcy of it all, this ride stood out as the last one he’ll work as an EasyGo bus driver. The Regional Bus Authority, which oversees the bus system, shut down for the last time Saturday because it couldn’t find funding to keep going.

Months of pleading with local politicians saw no success, and now the EasyGo riders, who averaged 30,000 rides a month, will have to find some other way to get to their jobs, grocery stores and shops.

They continued to ride it Saturday, though.

Hammond resident Darlene, who did not want to use her last name, said she rides the bus every day except Sunday. She’s never gotten a driver’s license and has relied on the bus system for transportation.

Darlene said that luckily she can walk to most of the places she needs to go but that having to walk up the overpasses will be hard on her.

She wasn’t surprised that the line was shutting down because the last few years have seen similar financial crises.

“But usually at the last minute, somebody would come in (to save it),” Darlene said.

Even though the bus system’s fate was determined by Saturday, rider Elisa Q. King continued to fight for it, wearing a “Save Our Buses” sign as she got on.

King said her children and grandchildren live in Chicago and have always been able to take the bus right to her house. Without the bus, she doesn’t know how they’ll get there.

“Lord have mercy,” she said.

Bus driver Dickerson relies on the bus himself. A Hammond resident who doesn’t own a car, he said he’s always ridden it in the past to get to his job.

“Transit is a vital part of life,” he said. “...If transit goes, something’s wrong.”

Dickerson hopes to get transferred to another part of the company that has operated the EasyGo system but because people weren’t sure of the RBA’s fate until the last minute, nothing has happened so far. He does have training scheduled to start later this month so he can drive large buses in Chicago. However, because the training takes place in Chicago, he’ll have to figure out how he will get there without the EasyGo’s help.

“I’ll see how that works,” he said. “I’ll manage.”

Dickerson did go to one of the meetings at the Lake County Government Center, where officials tried to get more funding support for the bus line. The meeting hurt to watch, he said.

“Instead of throwing stones, they should have been trying to keep the buses afloat,” he said.

He continued his route on Saturday as he always does, however, looking out for someone running to catch the bus and stopping before crossing train tracks to make sure no trains were coming. He honked and waved at a woman getting out of her car, saying drivers always keep an eye out for her.

Dickerson said he doesn’t get tired of driving or stressed out from it; instead, it’s helped him to find calm from stress.

“This is my peace,” Dickerson said. “This is my joy right here.”



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