February 21, 2008
By Eva McKendrick, Downers Grove Sun
Downers Grove residents have several transportation options open to them - the Metra trains, taxis and the Grove Commuter Shuttle. Now the Village Council is in the early stages of discussing a new bus service, and in the meantime, the shuttle is expected to receive some much-needed maintenance. Replacement buses have been ordered for the Grove Commuter Shuttle. Meanwhile, the village is exploring the idea of a new circulator bus system. Courtesy of the Village of Downers Grove.
Transportation systems have never been known as lucrative investments, and the shuttle - with an average daily ridership of 143 in 2005 - is no exception, village officials say. The Downers Grove Transportation Fund is expected to be $1.8 million in the red at the end of fiscal year 2008, officials say. Within the council, the debate over buses has resurfaced. On Feb. 12, the issue was brought up by Commissioner Sean Durkin, who in the past has called the shuttle system a "black hole."
"How are we going to pay this negative balance?" he asked at the Feb. 12 workshop meeting. Mayor Ron Sandack said the budget has been adjusted to offset the costs. Commissioner Geoff Neustadt said that with newer buses, which are expected to arrive in May, the maintenance and insurance costs will go down. Since 1974, the Grove Commuter Shuttle has been providing service to the Main Street and Belmont Road Metra stations.
In 2005, the Village Council decided it was time to buy new buses for the six shuttle routes. The current buses date to 1991 and 1992. The council approved the purchase of eight buses - six for the routes and two in reserve - which would be paid for by a Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality federal grant. Two years passed, and no buses arrived. In August, the council was told the eight buses they planned to buy would cost more than four times the original estimate. So officials changed the plan, deciding to buy only five buses. The money will come from a CMAQ grant of $448,000, with the village pitching in $120,260, said Doug Kozlowski, communications manager for the village.
The village will buy a sixth bus for $70,000 and keep two of its old buses for backups. The other six current buses will be sold for parts and scrap metal, Kozlowski said. In December 2006, the council voted to increase the fuel tax by 1 cent to keep the system alive. Besides the shuttle, the council also is exploring the idea of a local circulator bus system. Feb. 19, commissioners voted 6-1 to continue exploring a circulator route that would allow off-route pickups by appointment.
Durkin opposed the resolution, stating that declining ridership is proof the residents are not interested in a bus system. While all other commissioners said they have concerns about the potential costs of a program like a circulator, they said they would like to continue exploring the idea. "We're not speeding downhill," Commissioner Martin Tully said. "What we have done is we're keeping our minds open."
At this point, there has been no discussion as to how the Grove Commuter Shuttle and the circulator would work in together or how much a second bus system would cost the village. Assistant Village Manager Mike Baker said that if the council decides to go ahead with the circulator, those questions will be addressed later.