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VALPARAISO | Four companies submitted proposals to operate the city's two bus systems, including the two companies that now operate them separately.

The proposals from McDonald Transit Associates, of Fort Worth, Texas; Royal Excursion, of Mishawaka; Free Enterprise Systems, of Lansing, Ill.; and Ride Right LLC, of St. Louis, Mo., were opened at Thursday's meeting of the city's Board of Public Works and Safety.

McDonald currently operates the V-Line intracity bus service and Free Enterprise operates the ChicaGo Dash express commuter line to Chicago's Loop.

Assistant City Planner Tyler Kent, who also is the city's transit director, said the proposals will be reviewed by a committee June 28, and a recommendation will be presented to the works board July 8. The V-Line will complete three years of operation in September, and the Dash will complete two years at about the same time.

By having one company operate both bus services, the city hopes to save a little money, Kent said. Both have been operating with federal financial assistance.

Ridership on the V-Line showed its first drop in several months in May, mostly because of the end of classes at Valparaiso University. Kent said the university represents about a third of its riders. Total ridership in May was 4,323, with the number of passengers on the Yellow and Green Routes being 1,969 and 1,807, respectively.

The Brown Route, which serves the university, was down to 461, the Orange Route shuttle to the South Shore's Dune Park station on weekends had 61 riders, and the Red Route weekend service in the city had only 25 riders. Kent said more community residents are using the V-Line.

On the other hand, the Dash had its best month to date, averaging 61 riders a day in May. Kent said it reached a high of 79 riders May 10 and had several other days with ridership in the 70s. The only time ridership for a single day was higher was during the holidays last fall when a group took the buses together. The average daily ridership had declined each month from a high of 58 in January to 53 in April.

"A lot of it is word of mouth and seeing the buses on the street," Kent said of the Dash's growing ridership. "It's good to see it grow, and I'm seeing more new faces every day."

The city is waiting for approval of a federal grant to pay for a marketing firm to publicize both bus services. Kent said three companies were interviewed and the city is ready to make a selection as soon as the funding is approved.

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