Members of the Elgin City Council postponed making a decision on a request by Pace Suburban Bus Service to more than double the city's contribution to the Ride in Kane program from 2012 levels to nearly $196,000 this year.
The program, a partnership between Pace and Kane County agencies, was established in 2008 and provides low-cost rides to seniors and disabled residents to their workplaces, doctors' appointments, pharmacies and grocery stores.
Elgin's contribution was about $78,000 in 2012 and nearly $133,000 last year. Pace officials initially requested $118,000 from Elgin last year, but all requests are estimates and the final cost is determined by actual ridership.
Pace estimated this year's program in Elgin will cost $948,000, about 42 percent higher than two years ago, city officials said.
Funding also comes from nearly $180,000 in PACE subsidies, a $375,000 federal matching grant, plus call center grants and call center subsidies totaling about $88,000, city officials said.
However, council members Wednesday night said they had questions for Pace.
"We really need to get more information from Pace as to why these agreements are going up $50,000 or $60,000 each year," Councilman John Steffen said.
Councilman Rich Dunne questioned whether Elgin is picking up the tab for other communities such as Aurora. "Without proper data before us we can't do the proper analysis," he said.
Pace spokesman Patrick Wilmot said Thursday each participating municipality and township is billed for its own riders.
Although ridership in Elgin is only expected to increase by 1 percent to 32,935, vehicle hours are expected to increase by nearly 30 percent due to people taking longer trips, Wilmot said.
That means higher gas, vehicle and staffing costs, he said.
Riders are charged $4 per trip for the first 10 miles with additional mileage charges thereafter.
"The fares do not, and are not intended to, cover the entire cost of the operations," he said.
Still, Pace is open to discussing its funding request with Elgin officials, he said.
"If there is an issue with budgeting, we can make some adjustments," he said.
Elgin only included $120,000 for the Ride in Kane program in its 2014 budget.
City Manager Sean Stegall suggested council members tentatively approve Pace's request during Wednesday's committee of the whole session while making it clear they had reservations and needed more information before final approval.
That would avoid sending the message to Ride in Kane customers that the council doesn't support the program, Stegall said.
Council members, however, said they wanted to table the issue until they had all the answers.
Councilman Toby Shaw said he has concerns about how the program is run. "We do fully support some sort of ridership program, but what does it look like?" he said.
In addition to Elgin, other Ride in Kane sponsors are the townships of Aurora, Batavia, Blackberry, Campton, Dundee, Elgin and St. Charles, plus Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles and South Elgin, and a couple of nonprofits.
Jennifer Becker, Ride in Kane mobility manager for the Kane County Division of Transportation, said demand for the program has grown each year.
"Almost every sponsor has a waiting list," she said. "To not have 32,000 rides a year from the city of Elgin taken care of would be a big loss."