The Northwest Indiana Regional Bus Authority may continue to operate with or without buses, with the organization now looking at several options for long-term survival.
RBA Executive Director Tim Brown still believes the easygo Lake Transit system will shut down at the end of this month, but said the RBA may then continue to operate as it did before it took over the bus system in 2010.
"The RBA itself does not close," Brown said this week. "We just close the transit services."
Brown points out in the years prior to the takeover of Hammond Transit, now operated as easygo Lake Transit, the RBA distributed $3.4 million in regional express bus subsidies to Gary Public Transportation Corp. and undertook $750,000 in capital improvements for regional transit.
The agency will have about $370,000 left in the bank at the end of June, which is when its contract with First Transit runs out for providing buses and drivers, Brown said. The RBA is exploring moving its offices to Hammond's Dan Rabin Travel Center, even if the easygo Lake Transit system is shut down.
The RBA's all-volunteer board of directors will continue to exist, as authorized by state statute more than a decade ago, Brown said. Whether the agency will retain any employees, including Brown, remains up to the board, he said.
Some others think the RBA effort to regionalize transit has run its course and the organization should be disbanded.
"It's a colossal failure," said Teresa Torres, executive director of the disability-rights group Everybody Counts. "It's a failed experiment. I think the funds should go to the transit systems that have been successful."
She said the RBA's biggest misstep was to try to operate its own regional bus system, while its only mandate was to facilitate formation of a regional system.
The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority provided funding for the RBA's takeover and operation of Hammond's bus service contingent on the organization finding a permanent source of funding. When that did not happen by the end of last year, the RDA did not renew funding.
Lake County Commissioner Roosevelt Allen, who also is an RBA board member, said a proposal is still in play to use at least part of casino funding currently dedicated to a low-income homestead credit for buses, including easygo Lake Transit.
The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority remains willing to provide "gap" funding for the easygo Lake Transit service if a permanent source of local funding can be identified, said RDA communications manager Dave Wellman. He called the proposal on the low-income homestead credit a "step in the right direction."
Allen said proposed legislation on the homestead credit is in the hands of state Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, who may include it in a comprehensive economic development bill for a land-based casino and transportation infrastructure being developed by the city of Gary.
"It's my understanding it is still alive," Allen said. "Although the problem for the RBA is how to operate financially until that legislation moves through the General Assembly."
How that money would be divided up between local bus agencies still would have to be determined, Allen said.