Editorial: The challenge for Pace: Be both responsive and responsible
Leaders of Pace bus service made two positive declarations in their decision this week to spare eight bus routes from reductions or cancellations after receiving complaints from riders. But they also included in their response a sobering dose of reality that should not be overlooked.
After the Pace board's decision Monday, spokeswoman Maggie Daly explained, "We hear them. We will slow down and try to find a solution that preserves access to public transit while being fiscally responsible."
It is gratifying to see the transit agency responding to its riders. It is encouraging to hear leaders promising to employ some more elbow grease to find a solution satisfactory to riders who were alarmed by the plans for routes they use regularly.
But we should not be deceived about the literal bottom-line clause at the heart of this, for now, momentary scare -- "while being fiscally responsible."
Pace announced proposals in October to reduce routes with low ridership serving Aurora, Crystal Lake, Fox Lake, Lisle, McHenry and other suburbs. The agency wanted to move resources from the low-performing routes to support more-popular services like the I-55 Bus on Shoulder express routes, which are often standing room only.
The plans included elimination of a route that was critical for many clients of the Pioneer Center, a McHenry facility that serves developmentally disabled adults and homeless people. At public hearings conducted by Pace, users who rely on the route spoke out, as did riders who would be affected by other closures and restructures.
Pace is surely to be commended for listening and agreeing, in Daly Skogsbakken's phrase, to "slow down." At the same time, the agency can't ignore matters of simple arithmetic. Pace ridership is expected to slip by nearly 2% next year and the sales taxes that fund the service may not be able to cover the decline.
Thankfully, there are alternatives Pace can study. They include introducing dial-a-ride services, merging buses or even making use of ride-share providers like Uber or Lyft.
Will they be enough to bolster the resources needed along troubled routes while enabling the agency to simultaneously meet the needs of customers crowding into buses elsewhere? Presumably, getting that answer will be a primary objective of planners during the coming year.
In the meantime, Pace has faced -- and passed -- a meaningful test on the limits of expediency when confronting operational challenges. This bodes well for its potential to find a more expansive and equitable solution than merely cutting routes and shifting resources.
But no one should be oblivious to the requirement to be "fiscally responsible" that underlies the entire enterprise.