By By Rod Myers, Freelance Writer
What this county needs is a paratransit system that covers the whole county. Rockfords paratransit, which is a part of Rockfords mass transit system, is an excellent entity and serves the Rockford, Loves Park and Machesney Park areas very well. But the fleet should be expanded, and part of the expansion should be moved to a hub rural area. Part of the new fleet should be stationed in Rockford to take disabled Rockford citizens to places beyond the city limits they need and/or want to go.
The paratransit buses stationed outside the city would take disabled citizens from small towns and rural areas to other locations in the county including Rockford. Of course, there could be some interchanging where a Rockford-stationed bus taking a Rockford resident to, lets say, Shirland, could pick up a Shirland resident from Shirland and take them to Rockford if that person so desired. The return trips for both riders could be on that same bus or a different Rockford-stationed bus if the return times were near the same window.
A disabled citizen who wanted to travel from the town of Harrison to a farm house near Rockton or anywhere else in rural or small-town Winnebago County would ride a rural fleet paratransit bus. Of course, if theres one of the Rockford fleet going to a rural destination, and the rural-to-rural travelers travel path is in the same or close to the same travel path as the Rockford bus, then they would ride on the Rockford bus. A similar scenario would be that a Rockford resident heading to the country could ride on a rural fleet bus if the bus was returning a rural rider who was just leaving a Rockford visit. It would be in some instances a challenge, but overall, designing and planning the day-to-day routes would not be difficult. One thing that is not a challenge is finding people who would use a service like this.
People with disabilities have a limited option in the way they can travel, especially if they use an electric wheelchair. Theres a
little-known socio-science law called the Inverse Law of Electric Wheelchair Hauling, and that law states: The greater the technology in your electric wheelchair, the lesser the number of motor vehicles that can haul you in your wheelchair around. And then theres the Law of Techno Wheelchair Van Expense Equilibrium. Its an algebraic equation thats being confronted more and more these days. This law states, The more technical and expensive your electric wheelchair is, the more technical and expensive is the motor vehicle that can haul you and your electric wheelchair around. These laws are tongue-in-cheek, but very true.
Proposing a countywide paratransit system is not just a pipe dream; it could be done. I remember back in the 70s and 80s when we didnt have one wheelchair lift on a city bus. Then we heard about buses in Seattle that all had lifts, so we started demanding that Rockford begin equipping their buses with lifts. We hadnt even dreamt of a paratransit system yet.
I remember before buses had lifts, people in electric wheelchairs who had no vans tried to travel from one part of town to another in their electric wheelchairs. Many times, these journeys would end with dead batteries. Those were frightening times, and the police and/or firemen who were called to assist a stranded wheelchair were not equipped to handle the situation. If the weather was extreme, the consequences could be extremely hazardous. Lets not forget the criminal element that would find a stranded disabled person easy pickings.
I havent thought much on the possible scenarios of a disabled person in a rural area being stranded from trying to go from, lets say, Ridott Corners to Adeline, but a vision of a person strapped in his wheelchair strapped to the back of a pickup Granny Clampett-style had crossed my mind.
These are some of the freedoms that would be added to a disabled persons life if countywide paratransit came to be.
Disabled people who moved to Rockford, Machesney Park or Loves Park because they had no transportation could move back into rural Winnebago County and not be stranded. They could commute to other rural areas and Rockford. Disabled people who live in Rockford who dont have their own transportation but want to stay living in Rockford and want to travel to rural Winnebago County could do so, or even seek employment in rural areas.
The cost of a ride would probably have to double from what it is now, which would go from $2 to $4, but thats nowhere near what Carevan, Inc. costs per ride. Who will pay for this system? State, federal and local grants.
Yes, it would cost a chunk to operate a countywide paratransit system, but the county and cities would get much more back for this investment in people, as paratransit riders get to go where they want and work where they want. This all helps the local economy. A countywide paratransit system is a sound investment.
Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in nature and the environment. He is a member of the Rockford Amateur Astronomers Club, the Sinnissippi Audubon Society, Wild Ones Natural Landscapers and the Planetary Society.