North Township continues to lay plans to expand its dial-a-ride bus service and in the meantime is partnering with Gary Public Transportation Corp. to provide some stop-gap services.
North Township's efforts come in the wake of the collapse of the easygo Lake Transit bus system five months ago and the end of an emergency replacement private service that ran until last week.
"The stakes are pretty high," North Township Trustee Frank Mrvan said. "The people who are being left without rides are the blind, those in wheelchairs and others who most need them. So we are doing everything we can to be inclusive."
On Feb. 1, the North Township dial-a-ride service plans to expand its hours so it operates between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m., in contrast to its current hours of 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. It also is ordering new buses that should double the size of its fleet when they arrive next year.
That in turn will allow it to expand its reach so that North Township residents can get rides to places outside the township such as the U.S. Veterans Administration clinic in Crown Point, Mrvan said.
North Township will finance the expansion with a $1.8 million grant secured by the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission to be expended over three years.
For now, North Township has added one dial-a-ride vehicle and the manpower needed to operate it. The township also has entered into an interagency agreement with Gary Public Transportation Corp., with the Gary agency agreeing to handle overflow riders.
North Township is also putting out a request for proposals in order to hire a company or agency to handle overflow riders, Mrvan said. But the agreement with GPTC will help for now.
Those actions came in anticipation of the end of a service provided until last week by Triple-A Express, of Highland, under a $100,000 emergency contract with NIRPC.
NIRPC contracted with Triple-A to provide rides almost immediately after the collapse of the easygo Lake Transit system, which serviced most of north Lake County. The shutdown of easygo bus service along with its paratransit vans left hundreds of people with disabilities without rides to doctors, shopping and work.
Mrvan said a key part of his effort is to bring in rider groups to help plan any new services. To that end he has met with the disability rights group Everybody Counts and the Hammond Council on Accessible Transportation.
"The most important thing right now is communication with people in the paratransit world," Mrvan said.
Everybody Counts Executive Director Teresa Torres said Mrvan has included her group and riders needing paratransit from the get-go.
"We feel confident the effort North Township and its partners will undertake will be far more successful than the RBA because they are starting out with the right attitude and that's to work together, not just to take everything over," Torres said.