July 28, 2008

Bus route offers affordable transportation option

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- With gas prices hovering at or above $4 a gallon, people face critical financial decisions on a daily basis. Just putting enough into the tank to be able to drive to school, work, doctor’s appointments or to do the shopping can be a struggle. But, many Southern Illinoisans can now access an affordable option.

Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Student Center was the setting today (July 28) as Rides Mass Transit District (RMTD) unveiled a new bus route that will run four times daily, connecting Harrisburg to Carbondale with stops along the way. The regular bus stops include Southeastern Illinois College, Heartland Regional Medical Center in Marion, John A Logan College in Carterville, Williamson County Regional Airport, Carbondale’s Amtrak station, Memorial Hospital of Carbondale, the University Mall and the SIUC Student Center. The new Job Access/Intercity Transportation Project provides affordable access to employment, education, medical facilities, shopping, and other air, rail and bus transportation.

“The Job Access/Intercity routes will provide our citizens a new mobility choice for employment, education and connecting travel options, “ said Bill Jung, chief executive officer of RMTD. “Rides Mass Transit District is excited to help make Southern Illinois a better place to live and work.”

Larry H. Dietz, SIUC’s vice chancellor for student affairs, praised Jung and his staff for their efforts.

“Could there be a better time for expanded public transportation in our region?” he asked. “Whether it is access to education, jobs, health care or shopping, our residents and students now have a much-needed, affordable alternative to high gas prices.”

Anyone can use the bus service, which will run seven days a week. The cost varies according to how far you ride. A trip from Harrisburg to Carbondale is $6, one-way. The cash fare is $2 per zone. Zone one runs from Harrisburg to Marion, zone two from Marion to John A. Logan College and zone three from Logan to Carbondale. Children ages 6-10 pay 75 cents per zone ride. Riders can also purchase discount ticket books of 10 or monthly passes. Seniors and children qualify for reduced rates. There’s also special funding that allows limited free rides to those of certain income levels to assist in job searching.

RMTD suggests reservations but they aren’t required. Each day at the appointed times, the buses will make each and every scheduled stop. In addition, Carletta Prather, public relations coordinator for RMTD, said the routes will deviate at times with additional stops on the Illinois 13 corridor when riders schedule them to accommodate their needs.

Multiple funding sources are making the new transportation route possible. SIUC’s Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development received a three-year, $790,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Transportation to establish pilot projects for Rural Medical Transportation Networks in the state’s 34 southernmost counties. SIU President Glenn Poshard’s office, the School of Medicine and the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute are partners in the overall effort to develop the pilot projects.

Studies and focus groups quickly identified a need for regular transportation routes along key corridors such as Illinois 13 to improve access to health care, work and school. Meanwhile, RMTD was fielding more and more requests from the public for rides to additional locations for employment, training and educational purposes. As Illinois 13 is a significant transportation artery in the region, it seemed a logical place to create a new bus route. The Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development assisted RMTD in creating the new route and sought grant funding to implement it. An added bonus is the connection to other existing modes of transportation in the region.

The Federal Transit Administration awarded RMTD a $255,000 grant to cover half of the cost of the bus service for three years. Funds from the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Downstate Operating Assistance Program and RMTD cover the other half of the cost.

Running the new routes, which began today, are 22- passenger GMC or International buses. All Rides vehicles are fully accessible to meet the needs of persons with disabilities.

Officials with the Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development said their focus in initiating the process was improving medical transportation in Southern Illinois. As they work with communities and transportation providers in network development, the process will have a

positive impact on all aspects of transportation and travel needs. They said it’s yet another example of outreach and service to the area illustrating the University’s commitment to help Southern Illinois residents.

RMTD dates to 1977, when it operated under the name RIDES, or Rural Initiative Development of Effective Services. At that time, it provided public transportation in Pope and Hardin counties. In the years since, service has expanded to a 14-county region in southeastern Illinois.

For more information or ride scheduling, contact the RMTD office toll-free at 877/667-6119. For more information about the new RMTD routes, you can also look online at www.ridesmtd.com.