'Tweaked' schedule needs work, say RMTD passengers

On April 24, this writer met with several people who are concerned about service to passengers using the Rockford Mass Transit system. Participants were: Robin Dismuke, a regular RMTD passenger; Michelle Matthews of SEIU Local 880; Sidella Hughes of the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services; and an RMTD bus driver (name withheld).

Dismuke said the new routes don’t affect him, but do affect his girlfriend. He told TRRT that she takes the Big Loop North to his house. She often gets lost because the times of the route are different all during the day. They are not consistent, and this confuses her.

The bus driver added some explanation. “In the morning, from where we picked him up in back of Logli’s (on Rockton), there is no bus coming from the north to downtown until after 7 a.m. This girl can’t get home in the evening until later. There is a gap between the daytime and evening routes. He can’t get a bus at Rockton and Halsted coming downtown until 6:30 a.m. He is supposed to be at work at 7; the shift varies. Even for people living north of Rockford Memorial Hospital, there is no service until 6:30. He has sometimes been late to work.”

Commuting to work and school

“Before they started these new bus routes, people used to be able to come downtown by 6:15,” said the driver. “They could catch the bus at 5:45 to connect with a bus downtown. Now they can’t do it. Logli’s is farther up the street. Kids going to Auburn High [have the same problem.] No bus goes to Guilford. The kids have to get off at the intersection of Spring Creek and Mulford Road. Then they have to cross traffic and walk about half a mile where there are no sidewalks. It’s in early morning traffic.

“Also, they have no protection in case of inclement weather. Why can’t the Big Loop North or South swing around and bring them to Guilford? There used to be buses at 5:45 from the terminal going all directions. But they stopped those buses. On Saturday, the last bus (Big Loop North and South) leaves at 4:30 p.m. On Saturday, the first bus leaves at 6 a.m. from the terminal.

“On the Rural Street route, that was the bus that was going on Greenwood. That bus no longer goes to the U of I College of Medicine. It goes to Lynmar and East State since March 1, 2005. It was going to the corner of Guilford and Parkview, and no one wants to catch it there.”

The driver commented on the Huffman bus. “When they started the new service in 2004, it went directly by Rockford Memorial Hospital, in front. In 2005, they took the bus from in front, and now it goes on Huffman and Halsted, headed toward Wal-Mart, so it no longer goes by the hospital. The bus that goes up Kilburn could go to Wal-Mart without taking away the Rockford Memorial bus.”

Sidella Hughes mentioned the students going to Auburn High. “The kids who lived along Rockton used to be able to come directly to Auburn, but now they have to take the bus downtown and then come all the way back on School Street to get to school in the morning. This takes about another hour in commuting.”

“On the shuttle bus at 11:30 p.m.,” said the driver, “the west-side shuttle goes to Octopus Car Wash at the corner of Kishwaukee and College Avenue. The passengers coming from the west headed east, get on the east-side shuttle. This area has one of the highest crime rates in the city. If you’re already in the terminal, why do you have to go all the way to get back west? At 11:15 p.m., the shuttle leaves the terminal, so you won’t get there till 11:30.”

East-West disconnect

RMTD driver: “The East State bus leaves the terminal at 5:15 a.m. and gets back to the transfer center at 7:10. It goes to Clock Tower, then sits for 10 minutes at Lynmar and East State before moving on. It takes about an hour for people to drive to the airport, but it takes these people two hours to get to the Clock Tower and back. Anyone living on the east side cannot get downtown until 7:15 to get a bus to work. Originally, before the changes, they could get downtown at 6:15 a.m., 6:45, etc., and the bus ran in the evening so they could get a 5:15 or 5:45.

“On No. 20 Alpine Crosstown, the first time people can get a bus from Colonial Village going south is 7 a.m. It goes to Jefferson, Rock Valley College, the Post Office, and the factories. Anyone on an earlier shift is left out.

“They added three buses going to Alpine, north to Loves Park and Machesney Park. Growth Enterprises just moved to Loves Park in the old Clinton Electronics building. They took the regular Alpine bus off the route and deviated to go to Growth Enterprises. Now the passengers have to suffer because they can’t get to their regular destination and their jobs. The North 2nd Street in Berth T goes to Loves Park. They have eliminated those buses in a.m. and p.m. from going south in Rockford, thus deleting service.

“At 5:15 p.m., the southbound Alpine Crosstown does not go out to the factories or Rock Valley College on Samuelson, so people are stranded. Anyone who works at Magic Waters has to walk more than a mile to get to Magic Waters or to get a bus home. So many young people are being kept from working because they can’t get to the jobs.”

The RMTD driver also commented on west-side routes: “The West State has always been a half-hour service bus. Now it takes 45 minutes to make a round trip all day long. Also, the last bus now leaves the transfer center at 5:15 instead of 5:45 p.m. The buses do not connect downtown. People have to stay as long as 45 minutes to get some buses. If you took a West State bus and got downtown at 5:55 a.m., you have to wait till 6:15 to get an East State bus. You just missed the 5:45 a.m. East State. This happens throughout the day.”

Other problems

The driver noted that disabled people also have problems. “A couple of disabled persons who work at Growth Enterprises want to ride Paratransit. The company only allows them to ride in the winter. One person has to cross Alpine, a busy street, to visit his mother. To qualify for the service, it is necessary to have a doctor write a letter verifying the person’s disability.”

She also mentioned a problem with the Big Loop. “The Big Loop does not serve the west side at all. There is no service past Winnebago Street. The Big Loop meets the No. 20 Alpine at Wal-Mart. By the time the No. 20 Alpine Crosstown comes in, the Big Loop South has already left. According to the schedule, No. 20 Alpine leaves at 6:35 at Wal-Mart, and the Big Loop North leaves at 6:30. The No. 20 Alpine gets to Wal-Mart at 7:35. The Big Loop North leaves at 7:15 a.m.” There is a lack of bus shelters, especially on East State Street.

On some occasions, the driver said, buses have not run their routes because the regular driver was sick, and there was no one available to drive because supervisors would not substitute for the absent driver. So people who had to get to work along these routes were not able to get to their jobs. RMTD had to give back $25,000 out of the RATS study appropriation. The ADA money was spent on mechanics and maintenance. People wondered, was this the reason the service was cut back? There is no planner to study the routes. It was also noted that the director of RMTD, Richard McVinnie, has no degree in transportation and has never driven a bus.

From the May 11-17, 2005, issue

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