RATS meeting: RMTD faces budget shortfall

As fall approaches, Rockford Mass Transit District (RMTD) prepares to make some adjustments in its bus routes and schedules, while passengers anxiously await the outcome. RMTD has said it will “tweak” some routes in October without giving further details. What exactly does this mean for passengers, and what is involved in the process?

The consultant from Texas had made some recommendations that RMTD considered before its series of public hearings took place. The Rockford Area Transportation Study (RATS) Technical Committee met on Jan. 22, 2004, and noted that most of the concepts proposed by the consultant were retained, but precise bus routes and schedules had to be revised considerably.

Funding imbalance noted

On July 22, 2004, the RATS Technical Committee minutes state: “During RMTD’s recent Federal Certification Review, it was determined that certain previously included insurance costs were ineligible for reimbursement under the FTA [Federal Transit Administration] 5307 Program as ‘Preventive Maintenance’ expenses. Therefore, the previously approved TIP [Transportation Improvement Project] (Project 04-1, Preventive Maintenance) had to be reduced. However, this reduction created a potential budget imbalance of $200,000 for RMTD in FY 2004 [with] no state or local funding sources available to correct [it.]

“However, it was also determined that FTA 5307 funds can be used to cover part of the operations expenses for RMTD’s federally-mandated ‘Complementary ADA’ services (i.e., the mandatory demand- response services within 3/4 of a mile—RMTD’s fixed bus routes). This required Complementary service costs RMTD over $1.3 million annually and has been a part of RMTD’s budget for several years. In the past, RMTD has applied for and used FTA 5307 funds for parts of the capital aspects of this service (the paratransit vehicles) but has never applied for and used 5307 funds for related operations aspects.”

To correct the non-allowable “Preventive Maintenance” usage but avoid a budget imbalance, RMTD requested that Project 04-1 “Preventive Maintenance” be reduced from a total of $1,695,901 to a total of $1,445,901 and add Project 04-1a “Complementary ADA” with costs of $250,000.

Boone County services considered

The Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) addresses all major surface transportation projects planned and programmed throughout the Rockford Metropolitan Area (RMA) for the next three years including the RMTD and the Boone County Council on Aging (BCCA).

Funding for BCCA public transit services comes from a variety of state, federal and local sources. BCCA buses have been funded through the FTA “5310” and “5311” programs, and operating assistance is also provided through the FTA “5311” Program. “5310” funding is a special category of federal funding for transportation needs that cannot be met by regular transit in urban areas.

According to data from the Year 2000 Census, only the remaining “rural” parts of Boone County remain eligible for FTA “5311” assistance. But in early 2004, consideration was given to qualifying the BCCA for FTA “5307” funds to support service in urban areas. However, to qualify, BCCA would have to become a “designated recipient,” according to RATS and IDOT. Consideration was also given to qualifying BCCA services in urban areas for the State of Illinois Downstate Operating Assistance Program (DOAP) funds.

To qualify for DOAP funds, BCCA (or Boone County) will either have to become a designated local transit agency (action needed by the Illinois General Assembly) or become part of, and contract with an already qualified local transit agency (i.e., Rockford Mass Transit District).

RMTD Public Relations Specialist Lisa Brown told The Rock River Times: “We have no plans to provide services there (Boone County) for the next fiscal year. Past practice would be that we do not provide free service to anyone. We would probably go with our standard rate card.”

Title VI applications

Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (42 USC 2000d-1) states: “No person in the United States shall, on the grounds of race, color or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Title VI bars intentional discrimination as well as disparate impact discrimination (i.e., a neutral policy or practice that affects protected groups). Minority and low-income populations are particularly vulnerable to disparate impact.

In 1997, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued its DOT Order to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations to summarize and expand upon the requirements of Executive Order 12898.

Title VI and Environmental Justice goals include the following:

1) Minority and low-income populations should be allocated a fair share of transportation expenditure and services in the TIP.

2) Minority and low-income populations should not be burdened with a disproportionate share of the adverse impacts originating from the transportation projects.

3) In the process of developing the TIP, a concerted effort should be made to determine what populations are going to be affected by the projects in TIP.

4) RATS should periodically review and analyze past projects and transportation decisions to determine if all groups have been treated equitably.

5) RATS and the RATS participants should make concerted efforts to inform and involve minority and low-income groups in the transportation decision-making process.

With regard to public transit in the Rockford area, a comprehensive Title VI and EJ Assessment was prepared in March 2004. The assessment showed no incidence or evidence of discrimination. It is on file and available for inspection at RATS, with IDOT in Springfield, and with the FTA in Chicago. This document is currently under review by the FTA Civil Rights Office in Chicago.

We are told that RMTD has a $200,000 budget shortfall, and to remedy the situation, they have reallocated funds from the FTA. But where does this leave the recipients of ADA services? Some Rockford passengers feel they are being shortchanged.

Local observations

Some comments made to The Rock River Times include the following:

“They have eliminated four drivers. They have eliminated three buses with the Big Loop.”

“You don’t have an actual Broadway or Kenmore bus. You don’t have the one that used to run by the east side post office. This one used to run down Charles Street. The Big Loop takes over an hour and a half. They can’t run it in an hour.”

How many buses are operating now? RMTD has 15 routes, and 24 out of 39 buses are operating on the daytime schedule. For a regional center, this does not seem to be sufficient. Some drivers recall that on Aug. 18, a bus broke down, and there was no replacement bus available to run that route.

Winnebago County Board member L. C. Wilson (D-12) said he had received two or three complaints about the bus system. “They more or less said it was inconvenient.” He said he had attended one public meeting, “and it looked like it would affect people on the west side who had to go to work or the grocery store.”

Democratic Precinct Committeeman Alberta Jones (13-4) said that about a month ago, she went to a City Council meeting at which the 2020 Plan was discussed. A representative from RMTD was there to talk about rerouting the buses.

“I was telling her that the kids were late getting to school from Pierpont,” Jones recalled. “The bus was not making connections. She [Public Relations Specialist Lisa Brown] told us that they were working on it and would try to correct it and make changes. There was a bus on the corner of Johnston and Mulberry, and they only have one going down School. That one turns on Johnston going south…

“I did hear someone else speaking about the bus on School Street. It serves no purpose. The buses are so empty now compared to what they used to be on the west side… Did it serve the purpose?”

Her granddaughter’s

friend used the bus for regular transportation and said that with the new time schedule, she had to wait a long time to transfer.

“People who used to catch the bus on the northeast side of Mulberry and Johnston have to go down to West State. She said, “It’s not a very good place to wait by the [Pond’s] funeral home. I’m wondering about the handicapped people. I called Mass Transit about one person in a wheelchair who would catch it on the northwest corner of Johnston and Mulberry. They couldn’t get the lift ramp out for the wheelchair, and she sat there maybe 40 minutes or more.” (This was in the wintertime.) “These handicap-accessible corners—it doesn’t do any good when the snowplow comes along, and they back up the snow. What good are those handicap-accessible corners? The city needs to do something about it.”

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