RMTD still trying to find the way—part two

The buses are running, and passengers are trying to get acquainted with the new routes. However, complaints continue to come in, and people find that in some areas, the system just doesn’t work for them.

Lisa Brown, Public Relations Specialist for Rockford Mass Transit District (RMTD), responded to our earlier article (Feb. 18-24, 2004) in which an unnamed RMTD driver shared some concerns.

“Under the old route system,” Brown explained, “we had many such intermittent routes, which are runs that do not follow the same route every trip. The RMTD also would provide some true deviations upon request; however, very few were offered. A few examples of this would include Blackhawk Road, Collier Gardens, Milestone, etc. In these instances, RMTD would alter our service to accommodate these areas. Passengers unfamiliar with our service, expecting to get to a certain location at a specific time, would not know of these little nuances until too late. The areas that we service on the Alpine Crosstown route, that are literally off Alpine Road, under our new system are not deviations… They are scheduled stops with specific times equated accordingly. Now, anyone picking up a schedule will know exactly where the Crosstown bus goes at any given time. We are always running the same route throughout the day…”

How does it work for people? Passengers who want to go to Edgebrook Shopping Center used to be able to get the Greenwood bus at the downtown RMTD terminal. The bus would take them straight out to the shopping center, but Greenwood was one of the routes eliminated.

Ruth Anderson, a senior citizen who lives on Seventh Street, explained: “Now you have to get a bus to Colonial Village and wait half an hour to connect with the Alpine Crosstown bus to go back to Highcrest.” Anderson said that one day she wanted to pick up a prescription at Nihan & Martin. She took the Seventh Street bus to the transfer center, then had to wait a half hour to take the No. 12 Charles Street to Colonial Village. Then she waited half an hour for the No. 20 Alpine Crosstown to arrive. This bus went north on Alpine, made a loop around East State, Lynmar, Morsay, back to Alpine; then it turned on Guilford and went out to Brookside Medical Clinic (1215 N. Alpine). It went up the loop to stop by Christ United Methodist Church, 4509 Highcrest. She got off there and asked the driver when he would be back. He told her the bus would return in an hour and 15 minutes. She walked three blocks to Nihan & Martin, got her prescription, waited a while, then went out and waited 20 minutes in the cold wind, since there was no shelter. She didn’t want to stay inside the store for fear of missing the returning bus.

“It was a cold, freezing day,” Anderson recalled. She actually had to wait an hour and a half for the returning bus. With the old Greenwood route, the bus took her straight to her destination, she could get out, pick up her prescription, and shortly be picked up by the returning bus to go back. Under the new system, she did not find the three-hour commuting time either “easily accessible” or “convenient.”

Lisa Brown said: “Our driver goes on to mention the North Main route and all of its deviations. In fact, the only literal deviation is the service we provide to Milestone… What the operator also fails to mention is that the North Main route is one of the routes that will benefit from eliminating such deviations and intermittent trips. In addition to Milestone, the North Main route changed the course of its service at various points throughout the day to accommodate a wide service area. Sometimes North Main serviced North Main Street by Fulton Avenue, sometimes it serviced Huffman… Under the new system, RMTD will introduce a new Huffman route, servicing Huffman Avenue. As a result, the North Main bus will now always service North Main. The Huffman bus will always service the Huffman corridor. Gone are the two-hour headways…”

Scott Richert, executive editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, published by the Rockford Institute, shared his experience at the downtown RMTD terminal:

“I went down there today [March 9] because last Monday, the first day of the new schedule, I went out to my bus stop on Cumberland and waited for 10 minutes, and the bus never showed up. So I figured I’d better get a schedule. So I drove down there [the terminal] to pick up a schedule and asked the woman behind the counter. I said, ‘Do you have copies of the new route schedule?’ She sort of laughed and turned to a box next to her which had these freshly printed copies of the schedule.

“She said, ‘This is the revised route schedule, but we are constantly revising it because the drivers and their passengers are discovering that it simply doesn’t work.’

“She said, ‘So you might want to check here in about a week to see if there is another revised schedule.’

“What I took from the fact that she had them sitting in a box was, they have obviously gone back and reprinted them already. It turns out the reason I didn’t get my bus is, my bus is now gone. That North Main bus used to come south on North Main, shoot over on Fulton, come down Cumberland to Auburn and North Main. Now it’s outbound only. When I would catch the bus before, it [the stop] was two doors down, and I could hop on the bus and get to work. Everything was great. But now that line is only outbound, so if it’s raining or cold or whatever, I have to run all the way from Cumberland to North Main to get the inbound bus. Basically, what they’ve done is, they have shut out the Edgewater neighborhood from the inbound bus on North Main.”

Lisa Brown also addressed the west side issue.”Ms. Anonymous would also have people believing that we streamlined our service at the expense of the west side,” said Brown. “Ms. Anonymous also mentions that the West State route runs every half hour… under the old system, service to West State at times is hourly. We view 30-minute service all day long as an improvement.

“To demonstrate her alleged West State argument, Ms. Anonymous cites an example which does show that the time for a traveler could be increased. It is unfortunate, though, that our operator did not take the time to fully understand how her new system will work. This same passenger could catch the inbound West State Street bus at West State and Johnston and would be downtown within five minutes of being picked up. That passenger would then have the option of transferring to either the 7th Street bus, OR the Big Loop South bus, both of which leave within minutes of each other… It’s all about options…”

That hypothetical passenger is me. I have to get to Seventh Street at 9 a.m. to be on time for another job. I took the option of walking up five blocks to West State, standing out in the cold, bundled up in winter coat, cap and scarf, and feeling absolutely helpless in the face of the merciless wind, which was particularly vicious that day. There is no shelter out there anywhere. At the terminal, I then transferred to the Seventh Street. Again, on Wednesday afternoon, to get in to TRRT on time, I had to run down to West State, brave the cold wind again, then later catch another bus home. By Friday afternoon, I was sick with a throat infection and had to go see a doctor at Rockford Clinic, 2300 N. Rockton. The Kenmore bus used to take me straight out there. This time, I took a Kilburn bus and asked the driver when the next bus would be coming back. He said the Big Loop South would come by at 5:45 p.m.

I saw the doctor, got some antibiotic samples, and was through by 5 p.m. I would have to wait 45 minutes for that Big Loop South, and by the time it got to the terminal, what would I connect with? The last School Street bus left at 5:15. I could have caught a 6 p.m. West State, but again I’d have to walk five blocks in the evening.

I was sick and needed to get home as soon as possible to take my medicine. I “opted” to call a cab, which was more expensive, quicker—and just plain easier. I was out of options.

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