MICHIGAN CITY — With extended-hours bus service ending Sept. 30, bus riders said Wednesday they don’t know how they will commute to shopping and work next month.
Although the extra-hours service provided about 29,600 rides during the year ending Sept. 30, 2009, federal funding for the service has dried up and the city likely won’t pay for it on its own.
That leaves riders like Kimberly Hoefle in a bind. As she waited for an evening run of the Route 4 bus outside Meijer, Hoefle said “it sucks” when asked about the service cuts. She doesn’t have a car now and relies on the bus to get around.
“I get a bus pass every month,” she said, “that way, if my husband’s at work, I can get to my kids’ school.”
Outside Michigan City Public Library, E-toy Weatherspoon said she’ll likely find someone to give her rides once the evening service ends. She works two jobs, one of which ends at 8 p.m.
“When it stops running, it’s going to be hard,” she said.
Weatherspoon signed a petition to keep the evening service.
“They should be able to get the funds somewhere,” she said.
That won’t happen this year, Common Councilman Rich Murphy said.
“I don’t think it can happen in this budget; however, all the questions that have been raised now give us a chance to look at resources.”
MC Transit has relied on the Federal Transit Administration Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant to provide the four extra hours of service — between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. Monday through Friday — since 2007. Saturday hours are different.
The grant provided up to about $250,000 each year. The city has matched the federal money with about $50,000 of its own. That paid for an assistant transit director, secretary and eight part-time drivers, Central Services office manager Monique Cook said.
Although the transit service has increased fares recently, the revenue doesn’t pay for the service itself. In the grant year that ended September 2009, Cook said, MC Transit took in about $21,000 from riders during the extended service hours, not nearly enough to pay for the operation.
“... I really do hope that people, especially employers, are open minded about all this,” she said.
Ridership during the extended hours had been increasing during the first two years of the grant, Cook said. Final numbers aren’t available for the grant year ending Sept. 30, 2010.
Although riders likely will lose the evening service, they have made themselves heard at Common Council meetings.
Margaret Picur, a bus rider who works at Meijer, submitted a petition with 100 signatures to the city after voicing her concern at a recent council meeting.
“This is the first time I’m doing something like is,” Picur said of the petition.
Another petition with about 40 signatures also was submitted to the city.
“I did want to show the council that it was not only myself, but there were others who signed the petition that ... do feel that there should be night service,” she said.
Picur doesn’t think the service can be saved before Oct. 1.
That’s bad news for riders like Debbie Schofield who rely on the bus. She regularly takes the bus after her shift ends at 7:30 p.m. If the service ends, she may have to walk the two hours it takes her to get home from work.
“Fifteen, 20 minutes is a lot better,” Schofield said about her bus ride, “especially when it’s raining and snowing.”