Region's bus experiment breaks down

2012-06-30T14:15:00Z 2012-07-02T00:30:12Z Region's bus experiment breaks downBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

HAMMOND | Willie McCafferty rode an easygo Lake Transit bus from the Dan Rabin Transit Plaza to his home in Hessville on Saturday morning after working a night shift at the main U.S. Post Office in Chicago.

McCafferty, 59, has used local buses, the South Shore commuter train, and CTA buses to get to work for most of the past seven years. But not anymore.

Saturday was the last day for Northwest Indiana's failed experiment in regional bus service, with the easygo Lake Transit system shutting down for lack of funding and no community stepping up to replace it.

"It looks like I'll have to be walking to get to the train now," he said just before getting off the bus near his house.

Hammond Transit buses were taken over by the Northwest Indiana Regional Bus Authority two-and-a-half years ago and the service renamed easygo. The RBA greatly expanded service and ridership soared to more than 30,000 per month. The RBA also started a Chicago express bus service. That shut down Friday.

RBA paratransit services for those with disabilities were given a one-month reprieve by the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, which has arranged with private provider Triple-A Express to give people rides for one more month.

The RBA's takeover and expansion of Hammond Transit was funded by the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority. But the RDA said it could not fund the new easygo system indefinitely. It asked local political leaders to come up with their own means of funding it. That didn't happen.

Riders of easygo on Saturday were all thinking ahead to what to do next to get to work, shopping, and doctors appointments.

Some were talking about using North Township's dial-a-ride service, others cars, and a few thinking -- or hoping -- maybe they could afford a car.

"It's gonna be a long walk," said Ricardo Ball, 19, as got off the bus for his job at the McDonald's at 165th Street and Calumet Avenue.

Daniel Haryasz, 36, of Dyer, said he blamed the Lake County Council for not voting to appropriate money for local buses.

"You would think elected officials could see this is something people need," he said. "It's not a political thing."

Others blamed local mayors, with Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. incurring some of their wrath for turning his city's bus system over to the RBA.

"He helps the people in Hessville and around Purdue, but he doesn't help other parts of the city," said Ferna Tyler, 55.

For months, local officials have been playing the blame game, rehashing recent history and trying to pinpoint where things went wrong.

On Wednesday, RBA Executive Director Tim Brown took a letter to RDA offices in a last-ditch effort to keep the buses running. It didn't work.

On Saturday, Brown was at the Dan Rabin Transit Plaza cleaning up, giving interviews, and getting ready to change the locks before shutting it down.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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