Gary Public Transportation buses looking at potential service changes

A Gary Public Transportation Corp. bus prepares to leave the Adam Benjamin Metro Center on the bus service's Lakeshore route. The Lakeshore South service could be cut at the end of the year without additional financing.

John J. Watkins, The Times, file

The Gary Public Transportation Corp. continued its push for local funding to preserve its Lakeshore South route Wednesday during a public forum at the Hammond Public Library.

Lakeshore South originates at the intersection of Sibley and Morton in Hammond, then runs a loop south to Ridge Road in Munster and Highland.

The transit agency will eliminate the service in December without local funding of about $200,000, GPTC Planning and Marketing Manager David Wright said. Paratransit service provided by GPTC in the area of the bus route would also end in December.

Service on Lakeshore South, as well as the Lakeshore Connection route running from Gary into East Chicago, has already been reduced this year. The two routes generally provide 8,200 rides per month, Wright said.

"It's gotten its legs; we've got riders here," Wright said of the three-year-old routes.

But changes in federal funding are requiring cutbacks in GPTC service, Wright said. And GPTC chose to cut the Lakeshore route "due to lack of funding from the service area." 

GPTC began the Lakeshore routes in 2014, two years after a Hammond service operated by the now-defunct Regional Bus Authority was ended.

The RBA had absorbed the city's Hammond Transit system in 2010 amid hopes for creation of a regional system with a long-term financing source.

Talks among GPTC, the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority and the RBA did not yield an agreement to merge systems; temporary funding from Hammond and the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority ended without a permanent source of operational income having been created, and the Hammond service was ended.

The GPTC has hoped that local funding for Lakeshore, similar to an arrangement with Merrillville for expansion of Broadway service, could be secured. Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. has resisted the idea of individual local governments financing bus service.

McDermott said at a recent meeting of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission that Hammond "did what we were asked" when it turned its bus service over to the Regional Bus Authority. McDermott has argued that the long-term solution to financing bus service should be a regional responsibility.

"It's not a Hammond problem; it's not a Gary problem," he said.

NIRPC, which manages federal transportation-related funding in the area, is coordinating a task force regarding bus service that includes representatives of Hammond, Highland, Munster, Whiting, Gary, Merrillville, Lake County government and the RDA, but the group has yet to meet.

Meanwhile, GPTC will hold another public forum at 1 p.m. Oct. 11 to continue discussion of the issue. The forum will be at the Hammond Public Library, 564 State St.

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Andrew covers transportation, real estate, casinos and other topics for The Times business section. A Crown Point native, he joined The Times in 2014, and has more than 15 years experience as a reporter and editor at Region newspapers.