The federal government's concerns about how accessible the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission office is to people who rely on public transportation ought to be a reminder of the need to create the regional bus service the region needs.
Reginald Arkell, of the Federal Transit Administration, urged NIRPC's executive board last week to address concerns by disability rights advocates, saying one way of doing so would be to locate its headquarters near a South Shore commuter train station.
"To demonstrate sincerity in addressing this issue, you could do well by locating NIRPC near a NICTD transit stop," Arkell told the NIRPC executive board.
The federal agency is working with the Federal Highway Administration on a four-year certification review of NIRPC.
"We do have ongoing concerns about complaints we have heard at public meetings in the last few days," Arkell said. People with disabilities and advocate groups testified at a public hearing June 19, the day before Arkell's remarks.
NIRPC's lease is almost up, so the agency is considering three bids for NIRPC's headquarters. Only the location in downtown Hammond is connected to the train station by sidewalks, but Hammond is far from being centrally located. NIRPC serves Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties.
On top of that, making the office accessible isn't just a matter of putting it near a train station. Riders need to be transported to the train station and, if necessary, to NIRPC's office.
This situation is just one more reminder that the dream of a regional bus system is not yet realized. The Lake County Council must not forget this goal.
Where population density is high, fixed-route bus service is needed. Where homes are spaced farther apart, demand-response service makes more sense. But this service must be seamless to be functional. That hasn't happened, and there's currently no sign of progress.
Locating NIRPC's office near a train station won't help if buses aren't available to take passengers to the trains.