Funding Shortfall Could Portend Bus Woes In Gary
Renae Jackson is wheelchair bound due to a car accident nearly 30 years ago.
The 59-year-old Gary resident often uses the local bus service to travel to neighboring Hammond.
But that service could come to end by December because of funding issues.
“Transportation is such a necessity. It’s our access to life. You take that away, so many people are going to be left not only not being able to get to doctors, not being able to go shopping or not able to go visit friends,” Jackson told WBEZ. “The same thing everybody else enjoys.”
The bus service is operated by the Gary Public Transit Corporation.
Spokesman David Wright says about $73,000 is needed to maintain service to the southern sections of Hammond, Munster and Highland, known as it’s Lakeshore route.
It would need an additional $73,000 to continue bus service to north Hammond where there are popular shopping and recreational areas. North Hammond is also close to Chicago’s Southeast side where riders can connect with the CTA.
Wright says GPTC is dealing with a loss of $300,000 in federal funding. That’s why the bus service is looking to local communities to help make up the difference.
‘“We’re cost cutting where we can. But in terms of service reductions, the biggest area would be a service where we’re getting as much local investment as we need,” Wright said. “We’re not advocating cutting the service without making that effort to keep by inviting that additional local investment.”
Wright says GPTC will officially ask Hammond to fund the service later this month.
Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott Jr. says he has never been approached by Gary Mayor Karen Freeman Wilson to help fund the bus service.
“Hammond never has had anything to do with GPTC’s funding mechanism, nor do we have any input or control of this organization whatsoever,” McDermott said. “If Mayor Freeman Wilson wanted to meet and discuss this issue, I’d be willing to sit down and discuss it with her.”
Teresa Torres, executive director of the Merrillville-based Everybody Counts, a nonprofit that advocates for those who are physically challenged, says riders are worried that service will be cut.
“We get calls on a weekly basis from at least a dozen people who are worried. We get calls from people on from the north side of Hammond who want the service,” Torres said.
Torres and her group will be attending the July 24th meeting of the Hammond City Council to talk about the issue.
WBEZ’s Michael Puente covers Cook County government and Northwest Indiana. Follow him on Twitter @MikePuenteNews.