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Pace Plans Extra Service Next Year

Pace Bus

(CBS File Photo)

roberts250 Bob Roberts
Bob Roberts is a native of Wilmette who has worked in Chicago media...
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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. (WBBM) – The CTA and Metra may be contemplating fare hikes and service cuts, but not Pace. Not only does the suburban bus agency hold the line in its $194.5 million 2012 preliminary budget, unveiled Wednesday — it adds service.

But it’s built on an assumption.

Pace acted hours after the Regional Transportation Authority released its 2012 public funding allocations.

Asked if Pace got what it wanted, Finance Committee chair Vernon Squires said, “Frankly, it’s better. The RTA allocated $3.5 million in discretionary funds (for use by Pace). Originally, we had budgeted zero.”

But the RTA built its allocations on the expectation that sales tax revenues will increase in the coming year by 4.2 percent.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports

Squires said he lacks a crystal ball.

“It’s very easy to be glum and pessimistic, but we don’t want to err on that side, either,” he said. “So we’ll take the RTA’s numbers, work with them, and hope they work out.”

One of the promised service additions is high-profile. Pace intends to add service next spring on its 755/Plainfield-Illinois Medical District Express and 855/Plainfield-East Loop Express if the lines’ shoulder-riding experiment on Interstate 55 is successful.

The Stevenson experiment begins Nov. 1.

The other additions will not be traditional. Spokesman Patrick Wilmot said cost efficiency dictates a call-and-ride service in two far western suburban areas.

“There’s demand for service, but it would be very,very difficult to serve it with a regular fixed bus route,” Wilmot said.

The call-and-ride van will connect with the nearest fixed bus route at least once an hour, he said. Any resident of the area can use it, unlike Pace’s “Dial-a-Ride” service for the elderly and handicapped.

The capital budget of nearly $100 million, which depends on the ability of the state of Illinois to make good on promised money from its infrastructure program, provides for the purchase of 163 new buses and overhaul of diesel engines on a number of older buses to make them more environmentally friendly.

Pace also operates the region’s paratransit service, under federal mandate. The six-county ADA paratransit budget is set at $115 million. Wilmot said the service has shown significant growth in ridership, which led to cost increases in 2011.

Squires said the $115 million represents a zero-growth budget in an area where the ridership increases have been substantial, and said meeting that figure will be Pace’s biggest challenge if the financing is as promised.

Public hearings on the budgets will take place next month. Metra and the CTA are expected to release their budget plans in early October.