RDA wants to start transit fund

2012-12-02T22:50:00Z 2014-10-13T15:56:05Z RDA wants to start transit fundKeith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com
December 02, 2012 10:50 pm  • 

The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority is floating a suggestion it become the administrator of the last of the Northwest Indiana Regional Bus Authority's money.

The RDA would like to use the more than $500,000 in the RBA's treasury to advance the regionalization of Northwest Indiana's mass transit systems, RDA CEO Bill Hanna said.

"Our intent is to make sure those funds are used for regional transportation initiatives," Hanna said.

Both Hanna and RDA Chairman Leigh Morris said they are positing the concept and are looking into how it could best be done.

"It's not our role to dictate," Morris said. "But I would at least like to suggest it."

"It may be the right and best use of that money to improve and regionalize what I consider the failed, balkanized system of failed transit in Northwest Indiana," Morris said.

The RDA would, in practice, act as trustee for a fund dedicated to furthering the agency's long-term mission to consolidate regional transit systems to better serve riders, Hanna said.

The RBA board of directors will meet for what could be its last time in December. The board is expected to consider a recommendation from its operations committee that $579,881 be divvied up among seven area transit providers for new buses and other projects.

One of those getting a piece of the pie would be South Lake County Community Services, which provides dial-a-ride bus service to more than 55,000 riders per year, mainly seniors and people with disabilities.

Under the RBA operations committee recommendation, $36,000 would be put toward buying replacement vehicles for South Lake County Community Services. That money in turn would leverage $144,000 in federal funds for the bus purchases.

"It's a relatively small pot of money, but it could do so much good," said South Lake County Community Services Executive Director Margaret Sabato.

Other agencies receiving the last of the RBA's funds would be Gary Public Transportation Corp., Opportunity Enterprises, Porter County Council on Aging, North Township, Valparaiso's V-Line bus service and the ChicagoDash express bus to Chicago. The Hammond Council on Accessible Transportation also would get funding.

The current round of bus purchases planned under the operations committee recommendation have already been included in the transportation improvement plan of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, according to NIRPC Transportation Projects Manager Gary Evers.

The federal grants have been obtained as well and actual purchase of the buses has only been waiting on the local RBA appropriation, he said. The whole process would be similar to previous bus purchases NIRPC has made for local bus agencies using RBA funds as a local match, Evers said.

The RDA was one of the RBA's chief financial backers, pumping millions of dollars into its efforts to consolidate and improve the region's individual bus agencies. The RBA has also received federal money, municipal funds, state funds and fares from its now-defunct easygo Lake Transit bus system.

The Lake County Council voted earlier this year to terminate the RBA, after the collapse of easygo Lake Transit left Hammond and other municipalities without fixed-route bus service.

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