Editor’s note: The following is in response to the May 7-13, 2014, Letter to the Editor, “Who’s responsible for cleaning up?”, by Philip J. Wilson of Rockford.
By Richard W. McVinnie
I would like to respond to a recent Letter to the Editor from Mr. Philip Wilson. Mr. Wilson makes many statements that are unfortunately very accurate. As the director of the Rockford Mass Transit District, I, too, am very concerned over the condition of the Downtown Transfer Center.
The Downtown Transfer Center was constructed in 1987 and opened in 1988. It was constructed mainly with federal funds and 20 percent from the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). In using federal and state funds, we are required to bid the construction and contract with the lowest responsive responsible bidder. In many ways, this is a good method to assure fiscal responsibility. However, the down side of using low bid is that you become very limited on your choices for amenities and upgrades.
At the time of the construction of the downtown Administrative, Maintenance and Transfer Center, there were limited funds available for a project of this size. I have to compliment the executive director at that time, Mr. John Pippin and the Board of Trustees back in 1986 and 1987, along with Mayor John McNamara in completing a construction project of that size with a limited budget of $6,000,000. With electronic dispatching and bus bays, it was the state-of-the-art in the 1980s. At the time and given our budget, the facility was constructed for durability and not necessarily for comfort. The cement floors and hard plastic seating are examples of where function had to overrule aesthetics.
I’m sure you are thinking OK, what does that have to do with cleanliness? Over time, the black cement floors have become worn and are deteriorating. The floors were constructed with a dye in the cement, so it is not possible to touch them up like you would tile or carpeted flooring. The seating has been replaced periodically over the years, but due to the constant wear and tear, they were once again replaced with something durable. Once again, they are functional but not that attractive. It was also mentioned that the floors need to be mopped at least once a week. Actually, my maintenance manager tells me they are cleaned on a daily basis. This leads me to believe that it is just the cement flooring that makes it look dirtier than they are.
Mr. Wilson also mentions that the bays are filled with cigarette butts and other trash. This is also a true statement. However, the problem is caused by the public discarding their trash and cigarette butts on the ground rather than using the trash cans and cigarette urns located all around the center. Again, we clean daily; however, it does take the cooperation of everyone who uses the center to also help keep it clean. All we ask is that garbage be thrown in the trash cans provided and cigarette butts are thrown in the urns.
I can assure you that I care, the mayor cares, and my staff cares about the condition of the RMTD facilities and vehicles. The bad news is that operating funds are limited, and we have to keep up the condition of the facilities and vehicles with this limited budget. This is the same budget that we use to provide service to our community. We continue to make adjustments to our routes to improve our service, and it becomes a balancing act to provide the maximum level of transportation service while maintaining the facilities and keeping our vehicles in clean and safe operating condition. Due to the high level of passenger and general public usage of the Downtown Transfer Center, it has become an ongoing challenge.
All the reasons above have led to the current condition of the Downtown Transfer Center. The good news is that the RMTD will be applying for a grant this summer to fully renovate this facility. We will completely redesign the waiting area, restrooms and dispatch areas to bring them up to the standards our passengers deserve. The new design will also help us maintain cleanliness by using a durable but attractive flooring system, an elevated security office, comfortable but durable seating and other passenger amenities such as charging stations for phones or laptops and Wi-Fi for passenger use. We also are making plans to change the exterior by reconstructing the barrier walls in front of the bays, adding lighting under the canopies and updating the screeen walls and canopy.
Meantime, we will renew our commitment to our passengers by doing all that we can to stay on top of the maintenance of our Downtown Transfer Center. Thank you, Mr. Wilson, for your support of the Rockford Mass Transit District, and I hope with everyone’s assistance, we can change your opinion as we move forward.
Richard W. McVinnie is executive director of the Rockford Mass Transit District.
From the May 21-27, 2014, issue