September 17, 2009

New bus service connects five counties with SIUC

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- People living in several deep Southern Illinois counties now have an affordable way to get from home to school, work, doctor appointments or other places in the Carbondale area.

Shawnee Mass Transit District, known as S.M.A.R.T., has established two bus routes running each weekday that connect Massac, Johnson, Union, Alexander and Pulaski counties with Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Stops along the first route include Brookport, Metropolis, two locations in Vienna and Shawnee Community College Extension Center in Anna. The second route includes stops at Cairo, Mounds, Tamms, Ullin, Dongola and the SCC Extension Center in Anna. Depending upon the number of riders, the ridership of both buses may combine for the trek north to SIUC.

“The service of S.M.A.R.T. to the SIUC campus will facilitate not only the transportation of University students and employees to campus, but will serve other residents of the southern five counties who need to come to the Carbondale area for other purposes, including medical care. Coordinating services and initiating innovative transportation activities, as demonstrated with these new S.M.A.R.T. routes, is the essence of the objectives of the Rural Medical Transportation Network,” said Dennis Presley, project coordinator of the Rural Medical Transportation Network at SIUC’s Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development.

The center secured a $200,000 Illinois Department of Transportation grant for the 2010 fiscal year to help resolve medical transportation barriers, and the resulting planning led to establishment of the new bus routes. S.M.A.R.T. operates through federal and state funding. The transportation provider acquired a $134,150 Job Access Reverse Community grant to make available transportation assistance for employees who would otherwise not meet the eligibility requirements for employment and students who would be unable to attend class without the transportation availability.

“This provides an important and reliable transportation alternative for our students and staff who live in these five counties,” SIUC Chancellor Samuel Goldman said. “As we continue to partner with Shawnee Community College to provide young people in the area greater educational opportunities, this bus service will take on added significance.”

This is the first time S.M.A.R.T. has run a regular weekday route schedule to Carbondale, said Maureen Mann, executive director. And while the grant targeted specific groups, anyone can ride the new S.M.A.R.T. buses.

“We at Shawnee Mass Transit District, known as S.M.A.R.T., are very excited about our new route from the lower five counties to SIUC. We are happy that we can provide both students and employees a safe, reliable, affordable means of transportation as a result of the Job Access Reverse Community operating assistance grant agreement,” Mann said. “It is our intention to encourage potential SIUC students from the lower five counties by providing them with an affordable transportation option while also providing transportation for SIUC employees or anyone from our district working at a Carbondale business. Our general public transportation will get them to the SIUC campus where they can utilize the Saluki Express to go on to their desired location.”

Research indicates that more than 300 current SIUC students and employees could benefit from the opportunity to utilize public transportation from the five Southern Illinois counties to SIUC, according to officials from S.M.A.R.T. and SIUC. The availability of public transportation could boost enrollment and employee counts from the area as well, officials say.

Shawnee Community College welcomes the new S.M.A.R.T. bus routes too, said Larry Peterson, president of SCC and himself a four-degree alumnus of SIUC.

“We anticipate gas prices are only going to go up,” Peterson said. “These routes provide a way for our students to get to SIUC and it will help SIUC too because it’ll help students get from the five southern counties to campus. We’re very excited about the partnership that we have with SIUC. We’re grateful to Dr. (Glenn) Poshard and Dr. Goldman for working with us. We have a wonderful aviation program partnership and we’re looking at the possibility of communications and agriculture partnerships in the future. We’re very excited.”

Students, faculty and staff at SIUC can purchase a full semester transportation pass for S.M.A.R.T.’s Carbondale routes for $325. For $10 per day or $40 for a workweek, the public can purchase transportation passes. You need to make reservations in advance for daily or weekly transportation by calling 866/57SMART (866/577-6278) or 618/658-8380. Then just purchase your pass from the driver.

You can buy semester passes by calling for an appointment and coming to the Shawnee Mass Transit District office to make payment arrangements or pay for the pass. Semester passes include a couple of extra benefits; they carry a guarantee against loss or theft and the semester pass guarantees seating. Learn more about S.M.A.R.T. and its transportation options online at