People in Wilmington can hop a bus and get to one of the local grocery stores - it just may be several hours before the bus can get back from Joliet to take them home.
Fourth Ward Alderman Helen Hoppe and city administrator Tony Graff are proposing working with the Regional Transportation Authority's PACE paratransit program to create a local bus service that will run between residences and Wilmington businesses two days per month.
The city of Wilmington and villages of Manhattan and Channahon participated in a pilot program last year that has become a permanent fixture. The communities currently have five-day-per-week dial-a-ride paratransit service. Wilmington contributes about $6,000 for 500 hours of service annually.
Local officials say the service is for senior citizens and the disabled only, but the PACE website says the general public residing in Channahon, Manhattan and Wilmington township is eligible to ride the handicap-accessible bus.
Service is provided Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Individuals riding to a destination in the same township in which they were picked up pay $1.60 per ride. To travel to unlimited destinations outside the township, but within Will County, the cost is $3 for the first 20 miles, and an additional $1 per mile thereafter.
Generally, riders travel to Joliet to doctor's appointments, salons and shopping centers, so the bus is not available for transportation back home from the local grocery store or pharmacy until afternoon. A local program would ensure the return trip is available, and promote local business.
But before the city makes a commitment for the nearly $500 per month such a program will cost, it needs to know if residents want it, if they'll use it, and if there are local funds out there to help pay for it, as it would not be subsidized by PACE.
The service could be another pilot for PACE, a hybrid dial-a-ride service with fixed destinations.
Alderman Hoppe is scheduling two meetings for the week after Thanksgiving to gauge interest from eligible riders and the potential for sponsorship from local businesses. One of the meetings will be held in the community center at the Stough senior housing complex on Vista Drive.
Problems with PACE
Hoppe and Graff are also advocating for the seniors who are having trouble securing a ride on a PACE bus. Sometimes, the return trips are too many hours after arrival, and sometimes the riders are refused service because the bus is full.
"This has been going on for months. These are frustrated women," Hoppe commented.
The service is designed so that riders should be able to call PACE the day before they want a ride to schedule it, but it doesn't necessarily work that way.
"You call a week ahead of time, and they will say the bus is full," commented frequent rider Laverne Havlicek. She has unofficially been nominated to speak for a handful of seniors in town who have found it difficult to get service they can use from PACE.
"You can't be fussy," she adds.
She has also scheduled rides and called the day before for confirmation, and found out the trip was canceled - which cost her the price of a doctor's office visit.
Graff explained that the city's 500 annual hours are allocated by the week, so a trip to a Joliet mall and back might consume an hour, and a trip to Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox, an hour and a half. According to Graff, if Wilmington residents have scheduled the allotted hours for the week, no more rides can be added. The bus isn't actually at capacity, he explains, but Wilmington's hours have been used up or committed.
In addition, Havlicek said it might also take as long as two hours to get home from Joliet, which can make it uncomfortable for individuals with physical limitations. There are also times when the rider has to take any available opening, and arrive an hour or more before a store or doctor's office opens.
Havlicek feels the service was more efficient before the daily dial-a-ride program, when days were dedicated by purpose.
"What we have to do is get it so it's a real schedule," she said, seeking a return to days for shopping and days for doctor visits.
Hoppe has been working on the seniors' behalf for the better part of a year, searching for a way to make the service more user friendly. She knows how important it is for people with limited opportunities to be independent.
At this point, the city has put a priority on trips being made for medical purposes. Hours could be added for medically necessary trips, as a few hundred dollars were budgeted for PACE overages, but that will be the council's decision.
Havlicek appreciates the effort Hoppe has put forth.
"Mrs. Hoppe has been dedicated to the cause that seniors and disabled are able to have transportation here in Wilmington and also to Joliet," she said. "We need the cooperation of our elected officials and our Wilmington business people to work together with the seniors and disabled so PACE will be able to provide the best service possible."
Hoppe and Graff encourage those who haven't been happy with the service they received from PACE to call and register a complaint. If PACE does not receive complaints, it doesn't register a problem, nor work toward a solution.
"We have to get across to them that they have to call in and register a complaint if they have one," Hoppe said.
The PACE complaint line is 1-800-606-1282, option 2. When The Free Press Advocate called during business hours, a young man answered the phone. After hours, he said, the system is automated. Hoppe said PACE does listen to the complaints called in, but there is a process for addressing the issues that takes a little time.