By Tim McNicholas

CHICAGO (CBS) — Pace Bus’ 2021 budget paints a dire picture of a transit service that has lost half of its riders in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pace already paused 73 routes in the spring and now, to save money, Pace wants to cut those routes indefinitely. Riders told CBS 2’s Tim McNicholas that move will cause some headaches.

Grezyna Kott’s commute was easy enough – about an hour each way.

“Right now,” she said, ‘it’s a nightmare.”

Ever since Pace stopped Route 757 to Schaumburg, Kott’s commute time has doubled. On some days, she is commuting for a total of four hours.

“It’s miserable,” she said. “I’m exhausted.”

Kott follows a confusing list of transfers between buses and trains, and then caps it off with a 20-minute walk.

Now, Pace is calling for the indefinite discontinuation of her old route and 72 other currently-suspended routes in Naperville, Western Springs, and other suburbs.

“It makes me feel really bad,” Kott said, “because I know there were people who took those buses, and I know there were essential workers.”

Some riders told us they are working from home, but if their company sends them back next year, they would like to use the bus lines.

For many riders, those Pace routes were just the first and last part of the daily commute.
They took those buses to and from their Metra stops.

“Very disturbing,” said DePaul University transportation professor Joe Schwieterman. “the budget situation is dire.”

Schwieterman said the Pace cuts will hurt Metra, which is already facing its own 90 percent drop in ridership.

“The system works together and when you take a piece out of it like this it ripples through the system,” he said.

Metra warned earlier this month that they too might have to cut lines without more federal relief.

Pace’s budget proposal said the routes they plan to cut already performed poorly post-pandemic. We asked Kott about that, and she did not characterize the bus route she took as poorly-performing at all.

“The bus 757 in the morning was full,” she said.

The transit agency is taking feedback on the budget now.

“Bring back at least some of the percentage of the previous lines – the cut ones,” Kott said.

The proposal said Pace relies on fareboxes and sales tax, and “both funding streams have been devastated.”

Pace said if the routes are discontinued, they could reevaluate later on when ridership demand goes up, or when more funding is available.

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Tim McNicholas