In 2000, the Regional Transportation Authority was formed to build an efficient transportation system for Lake County. With its location near Lake Michigan, the Gary airport, access to commuter trains and a bus system, Lake County should be an unparalleled transportation center.
In 2005, the RTA was changed to the Regional Bus Authority with creation of the Regional Development Authority, and the RBA was given the mission of merging the three major bus routes in northern Lake county and expanding south county on-demand transportation.
In two years, the RBA accomplished increased monthly ridership on fixed routes from 15,000 to more than 31,000, paratransit rides from 500 to 1,500, express route to Chicago ridership of 2,300 per month and standardized fare charges at $1.25 per ride.
Other accomplishments were a countywide call center, a coordinated dispatch center for demand response services and more than $450,000 in match money for new bus equipment for both Lake and Porter counties.
The main goal was to streamline the bus system for the good of residents who need public transportation for their jobs, health appointments, shopping, etc. In addition, the whole community receives the environmental benefits of reduced pollution and congestion as well as economic advantages of coordinated bus system.
A permanent source of funding has been the challenge, and the failure to secure this funding can be attributed to the lack of cohesiveness of Lake County, lack of appreciation for the need for public transportation for residents in both north and south Lake County, and the fears of the governing bodies to adopt a local funding source.
Both a local food and beverage tax and income tax have been proposed, and two legislative changes have been proposed. Nothing has been able to work successfully to appease all parties.
One professional lobbyist commented that state legislators joke about Lake County when one group seeks any form of funding; all others begin quibbling for the same benefit. Couple this with the prevailing attitude that no help will come from the state until Lake County adopts a county option income tax, and the state turns its back on us.
So here we are facing the dissolution of a vision that could have benefited many residents. Public transportation is not a concern for people until they or a dependent need it. We should feel regret for those left standing on the corner waiting for a bus that will not come.
Public transportation and the freedom it represents is a necessary component of our society, and as our population ages requiring transit services, who is to provide the necessary services?
I was at the first meeting of the RTA and will be at the last. My support is constant for this important cause.
Kathy Willman was appointed to the Regional Bus Authority by the Lake County Council. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.