With the Regional Bus Authority running out of money Saturday, there is last-minute scurrying to try to maintain the agency's service. That it has reached this stage is shameful.
RBA Executive Director Tim Brown recently showed me all the pertinent numbers and discussed what regionites might not understand if they're sitting on the outside looking in.
Looking in the windows, for instance, and seeing few riders on a big bus.
The buses are full at the start of the route, Brown explained, but riders typically stay on the bus for only three miles. By the southern end of the route, most have gotten off the bus.
So why do the buses go so far south? Because there's a need for them to take people there for health care and other needs. Where you see the buses empty might be when they're working their way back north, where the population density is higher.
So what happens to those riders if the RBA shuts down?
In March, Brown said, he told North Township to expect 6,000 more people per month calling for rides via the Dial-A-Ride service. It's not an ideal solution.
On Monday, the news broke that TransportAzumah, a New York-based transportation company, was interested in taking over the Lake Transit routes. That could help riders who travel within North Township but would leave commuters who head to Chicago stranded.
And even this is not certain. No one has approved it yet.
It's also not what was intended when the Regional Bus Authority was established more than a decade ago. There's a reason its name starts with the word "Regional."
The reason that dream hasn't been fulfilled yet is the cost of doing so.
Brown figures that funding the existing fixed-route and paratransit services — RBA, East Chicago Transit and Gary Public Transportation Corp. — would require a local match of just under $9.5 million. The truly regional bus service scenario would cost $11.8 million for just Lake County and $14.8 million if Porter County is included.
The Lake County Council has deferred so many decisions on a number of major issues for so many months that I'm starting to think of it as the Lake County Deferment Council. All the appropriate data was presented to the council months ago, Brown said.
This isn't just about the RBA. Gary's bus service is likely to need to be rescued, too. But the warnings continue to be ignored. It's a real travesty.
Because of the continued inaction on this issue, Brown is blue, and the easygo riders are too.
Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. Follow him on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.