Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson issued a call Tuesday for more citizen involvement in Northwest Indiana mass transit issues as well as a prescription for how to improve it.
“We do need some of those more vocal advocates for public transit to rally behind public officials,” Freeman-Wilson said.
The mayor also said the recent failed efforts to expand and consolidate bus systems in Northwest Indiana had made one thing very clear to her.
“Any regional transportation system has to be built around Gary Public Transportation Corp.," she said. "Not just because I'm mayor of Gary … but as a practical matter they have the fleet, the expertise, the longevity and they have an existing tax base."
Freeman-Wilson spoke after four other panelists at Indiana University Northwest's “Shattering the Silence” forum series described why the effort to regionalize mass transit has failed up to now.
Those panelists pointed to a lack of funding as a critical shortcoming, but also to a failure of will often steeped in stereotypes and sometimes racism.
“It's no secret many of our communities are divided along racial lines and that goes a long way to explaining why we don't have a regional transportation system,” said former Lake County Sheriff Roy Dominguez. He is also a member of the Everybody Counts Board.
Dominquez also leveled some of his strongest criticisms at the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, which he said should do more to help transit consolidate.
Both GPTC General Manager Daryl Lampkins and Lake County Commissioner Roosevelt Allen described some of the failed efforts of the past several years.
Panelist Adarya Kelly, an IUN student who is blind and does not own a car, said recent cutbacks by local bus systems have had a very real effect on her life and the lives of her children.
“They should consider their riders,” she said. “You can't function in this world if you have to be home by 6:30 p.m. … There's no way you can be self-sufficient,” she said.