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Bus stops an economic starter?
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Bus stops an economic starter?

Investing in bus systems may yield returns for workforce and employers, according to a new study from Ball State University.

Results of the study suggest that access to fixed-route bus transit should be a component of the economic development strategy for communities -- not only for the access to jobs that it provides low-income workers -- but also for the benefit provided to businesses that hire these workers.

David Wright, director of the Gary Public Transportation Corp.’s planning and marketing department, said the study is consistent with GPTC's regional transportation strategy.

"We not only strive to maintain service, look for ways to expand service to unserved job markets, but work directly, whenever possible, with Gary and Northwest Indiana employers to make the most of our service," he said. "We know they depend on us to maintain a stable workforce. Northwest Indiana's economic health depends on transit and additional cooperation - planning, funding and implementation - will see to that regional vitality."

Valparaiso City Planner Tyler Kent oversees the city's V-Line buses, which he said provide reliable, reasonable transit service for the public.

"It's meant to get people to the doctors, to work, to school," he said. "And our ridership has shown over the years that people rely on it to get to these services, whether it be work or a doctor's appointment."

Kent said the city will amend V-Line routes based on the need for service throughout the city.

"If we find additional service is needed in an area we'll modify our routes for that," he said.

Valparaiso also operates the ChicaGo Dash express commuter bus service to the Loop.

"Even if don't have a Fortune 500 company here, people will move to live here to take the Dash to a Fortune 500 downtown," he said.

The Regional Development Authority has been working on with the extension of the South Shore West Lake corridor and getting the funding for it. But another initiative in Lake County is looking at the bus system in place and grow it more organically, take what's working and replicate it in other communities.

RDA Chief Executive Bill Hanna said they will be having conversations in the coming months on how to make it sustainable and coordinated appropriately with the South Shore offerings.

"A lot of people talk about the difference between auto transportation and buses and trains," Hanna said. "Really at the end of the day, our economy is absolutely dependent on the movement of people, goods and services and it comes in different formats. One of the ways we've been really lacking in Northwest Indiana is in a dependable, wide-ranging bus ground transportation system."

Hanna said Valparaiso is a great example of how a quality bus system creates synergy both between the users and the employers, as well as just having a sense of community.

"I think it's absolutely vital and you would be hard pressed to find any area of note that is economically vibrant that doesn't have a well-functioning public transit system," he said.

The study, which was published in the journal Urban Studies, analyzed employee turnover rates between 1998 and 2010 in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin counties. The research compared counties with between 50,000 to 125,000 people with and without bus transit systems.

Researchers found that a fixed-route bus system in a community reduced annual manufacturing turnover by 1,100 to 1,200 jobs and annual turnover costs by $5.3 million to $6.1 million. In retailing, the turnover of employees was reduced by 900 to 1,000 jobs annually while yearly turnover costs were cut by $1.7 to $1.9 million.

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Lake County reporter

Rob covers urban affairs and other matters in Crown Point, St. John, Winfield and beyond. Previously he covered Valparaiso, Hammond, Gary and East Chicago. He's also written for various magazines and pens a culture blog for The Times.

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