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The evidence is clear: Local public bus demand response and paratransit services benefit communities and the people who live in and visit them. Unfortunately, many elected officials are too shiny-eyed about expanding rail services to recognize that and work together to ensure these services are provided.

Kudos to Merrillville for working with Gary Public Transportation Corp. to expand bus and paratransit services for their residents. 

And “shame on you” to those communities who have steadfastly refused to support transit systems that serve their residents.

Transit system members of the South Shore Transit Alliance — a collaboration formed by Gary Public Transportation Corp., East Chicago Public Transit and the North Township Trustee’s Dial-A-Ride Service — regularly engage in respectful and sincere dialog with each other, and with senior citizens, people with disabilities and others with limited income.

For example, Cindy Miller, who resides in one of Hammond’s many housing facilities for senior citizens, recently expressed concerns about the pending shut down of GPTC’s South Shore bus line.

“We need to live our lives like everybody else,” Miller said. “And that means we have to get to shopping, to the doctor — to all of the places that everybody else needs to go. So do people with disabilities, and young people who can’t afford their own cars yet. Why don’t we matter as much as everybody else?”

The SSTA’s efforts to improve and expand local public transportation options have also drawn the interest and support of many in the academic, business and social services communities.

“Transportation options reduce air pollution and help to protect our environment,” says Kim Irwin, Executive Director of Health by Design, which sponsors the Indiana Citizens Alliance for Transit, one of the SSTA’s newest members.

“Access by people of all ages, abilities and income levels to those options results in improved quality of life for residents and improved vibrancy for cities and towns,” she explained.

Concerned about threats to Lake Shore South, a GPTC bus line that will end in December without support from the cities whose residents are being served, Irwin recently encouraged the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission to push for a renewed, collective approach to accessibility and mobility.

“We request continued leadership by NIRPC staff in convening appropriate decision-makers, providing data and statistics, facilitating dialog and seeking solutions,” Irwin said.

SSTA member and GPTC Planning Director David Wright says that transit, both in front and behind the scenes, improves commerce and the overall quality of life.

“We get residents to government agencies, people to jobs and students to colleges,” Wright explains. “When the region does not invest in this important infrastructure, those connections suffer.”

David Harris, vice president of development for Samson Dental Partners, which is opening a new emergency dental service in Schererville, says many of their patients would substantially benefit from the expansion of public transportation services further west of U.S. 30.

“Through our partnership with GPTC, there has been a dramatic increase in students' participation in extracurricular activities and parents’ ability to attend family engagement events,” said Katie Kirley, executive director and principal of Steel City Academy.

According to AARP Indiana, which is also part of the SSTA, most people want to age in place — at home, in their own neighborhoods — which is what Cindy Miller is saying.

So everybody is talking. More decision-makers need to start listening.

Teresa Torres is director of Merrillville-based Everybody Counts, a disability rights advocacy group for Northwest Indiana. The opinions are the writer's.

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