RMTD changes challenged

Rockford Mass Transit District held a public meeting at 1 p.m., Monday, Feb. 23, at the Main Rockford Public Library downtown. Approximately 30 to 40 people attended. From the start, it was apparent that some people were not happy about the changes to bus routes, although the group was orderly.

One man asked: “How is it more efficient when you have to make three or four transfers, riding four or five buses? That’s cheaper than riding one? That doesn’t make any sense.”

Two employees of RMTD were present at the time. Dennis Hendricks replied: “We’re not going to debate. We are trying to get people from point A to point B with as little confusion as possible. We will work with you one on one.” He noted that representatives from RAMP and Growth Enterprises were also present. Lisa Brown, Marketing & Public Relations Specialist for RMTD, had not yet arrived.

The meeting was generally quiet, and Hendricks and Patty Crossland, also from RMTD, met with individuals and small groups who had questions. In response to a question from the audience, Hendricks said: “We are not changing stops right now. It is still flag stops.” Questions were raised about the Wal-Mart and Riverside area. This area would be picked up by the East State Street Circulator.

Problems with time changes

Some people brought signs to display their feelings. Some comments on the signs were:

u “RMTD is not/was not relyable—dependable—acessable” [sic]

u “Hey, McVinnie! Come join the real world! We use RMTD to go to work, medical appointments, grocery shopping, visit family and friends!”

u “3 different buses to get to some locations—we’re Rockford, not Chicago!”

u “Dallas firm—$60,000; RMTD drivers’ knowledge and experience—NO COST!!!”

u “Some of us must leave for work 1 hr. earlier and get home 1 hr. later due to CHANGES!”

One man in a wheelchair, Adam Wilson, suggested that people boycott RMTD for a day. There was no apparent response to his idea, but he did share his comments with The Rock River Times,

“I’ve waited at the bus stop, and they have left me and my wife and told us to take the next bus because their bus itself is not dependable, didn’t work [mechanical problems],” said Wilson. “The time period to wait for the next bus is one hour. It was Saturday, Valentine’s Day. Now this new route—it doesn’t show anything about the people that live at Collier Gardens on Searles Avenue, how they will get from there to the bus stop without a sidewalk on Searles Avenue. There is no sidewalk except a block from the drainage ditch. After that, it’s all road or the ditch to walk—then it’s grass. I have somebody I love that lives there, and she has cerebral palsy. The only way she can get to the bus is to play with the traffic on Searles. What really disturbs me is if you get on a bus, and you have to ride 45 minutes to where you have to transfer. Just to transfer to that point and then take another bus that you have to wait 40 minutes for the next bus. The amount of time you add to that, probably that same bus today would only take 40 minutes to my destination. It’s a ridiculous amount of riding. One of the reasons they want to change this route is some federal grants are going to come in. If they expand the route, the funds will get better with the intention that they will get more in grants or more funds.”

At this date, it is not known what role, if any, grants allegedly played in the new route schedule. RMTD Executive Director Richard McVinnie did not reply to requests for information and did not return phone calls from TRRT.

Employment affected by changes

One of the passengers to be affected visited The Rock River Times office that same day. Frances Jones, 60, was just offered a position at Bergstrom’s on Blackhawk and 11th Street (2390 Blackhawk Rd.). She showed us the letter from the employer. “Right now,” she said, “the buses go out there to Blackhawk six times a day, four times in the morning and twice in the afternoon. As of March 1, they will not run there. I went and spoke to Lisa Brown last Thursday at 5:30, and her first comment was, ‘We studied these routes. We are trying to make the routes more efficient, and it’s only a mile.’”

Jones was taken aback that a 60-year-old was expected to walk a mile to her destination. She reiterated her concern. “I went to almost all the meetings. I have the proposed routes that this company from Texas [MacDonald] did, and they proposed leaving this route in because there are these factories out there where the people work.”

Jones said that Brian Halsted at the 11th Street unemployment office had helped her with an earlier problem, but said he could not get involved in this one. Halsted is the Employment Service field representative. He said: “Our department does not have any comment as to how the City of Rockford is running the bus system. It is not appropriate for us to comment.”

Jones added: “Presently they have two buses going down Research Parkway; the big survey said to eliminate it, but now they’re going to keep the Kishwaukee and the South Main buses going down there.” North Main and Huffman will be two separate routes. But from a practical standpoint, she asked, “Why should I buy a bus ticket for $36 if I have to pay someone to get me to and from work? Why should I pay twice?” She also felt the drivers were not being informed about the changes on these routes.

Jones is distributing petitions to the following businesses in the affected area: Rockford Fastener, Inc.; Rockford Toolcraft; Teamster’s Hall; G & K Services; Linquist; SPX; Bergstrom’s; Pitney; Jeld-Weld; and Parkside Warehouse. The petitions state that “As of March 1, 2004, the area of 11th St. and Samuelson to Blackhawk to Fulton to 6th St. and Samuelson will no longer be serviced by RMTD. Please help to restore this service. Walking a mile or more to and from work can be unpleasant…” and ask signers to “indicate if you are a handicapped or disabled person.” Jones said all the businesses she had contacted were very supportive of her effort.

Schedule books are now available, and people at the meeting had opportunity to obtain them. The new booklets are similar to an earlier version, but the new ones contain a map of all routes in the center of the booklet. The booklet states, “RMTD supplemental schedules and schedules for the visually impaired are available in the RMTD Administration Office.”

State Rep. Chuck Jefferson will be holding a community meeting for RMTD bus riders concerning new bus routes on Friday, Feb. 27 at 1 p.m. at the “Zeke” Giorgi Center, (State of Illinois Building) 200 S. Wyman St., in the auditorium.

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