GUEST COMMENTARY: We challenge NIRPC to lead on public transit

2013-08-13T10:51:00Z 2013-09-26T18:14:10Z GUEST COMMENTARY: We challenge NIRPC to lead on public transitBy Roy Dominguez nwitimes.com
August 13, 2013 10:51 am  • 

The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission’s website states NIRPC “provides a forum that enables the citizens of Northwest Indiana to address regional issues relating to transportation, the environment and community, and economic development.” Unfortunately, that forum has certainly has not been as inclusive as it should.

Most citizens aren’t even aware of the transportation planning role NIRPC plays as a metropolitan planning organization.

Federal Transit Administration and Federal Highway Administration officials recently noted Northwest Indiana is not following the national movement to maximize use of public transportation.

Despite millions of dollars spent on special studies and special reports, Lake County’s transportation systems remain unconnected. Some even believe that rather than being the catalyst for a regional system, NIRPC has been the greatest barrier.

Instead of learning from past mistakes and moving in a different direction, such as supporting the largest public transit system already in place, NIRPC seems to be content to just sweep it all under the rug. Not only is there no conversation about improved public transit taking place now, it isn’t even on the horizon.

An ever-growing percentage of our population are senior citizens, and people with disabilities. These valuable neighbors don't just need to go to the doctor, they also want and need to work, to shop, to recreate — to live their lives like everyone else. An effective regional public transit service would also benefit our young people and those struggling to exist in these difficult times. And those concerned about our environment support expansion of public transportation as well.

Millions of dollars have gone to consultants to write reports, but very little real conversation has taken place with those who actually use public transit services, those who would do so if those services better met local needs, or the local business, social service and health care communities.

If recommendations on how to actively solicit meaningful input are to be followed, NIRPC must undertake a sincere effort to make more residents aware of the substantial role NIRPC plays in building our future. By actively discouraging those who indicate a willingness to become more involved, NIRPC is doing our entire community a disservice.

NIRPC is considering a transportation improvement plan which allocates almost $750 million in governmental funding. Simply doling out dollars to the same transit providers to continue providing the same patchwork services will do nothing to address the real need.

We challenge NIRPC to put aside egos, prejudice and history, and instead take the lead in bringing all of the stakeholders to the table to find a way forward. Do more than just meet the minimum requirements for public involvement. 

Roy Dominguez is on the board of Everybody Counts, a nonprofit serving Northwest Indiana's disability community. The opinions are the writer's.

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