Vernon Hills considers changes to senior bus service
A fundamental change is in the works for Vernon Hills' free bus service for seniors.
The service won't be going away, but it also won't be operated as it has been in years past, according to village officials.
"I want to make it absolutely, 100% clear we're not talking about eliminating transportation for seniors," Village Manager Mark Fleischhauer said this week during an informal village board discussion.
What started in 1989 as a shuttle service to the village senior center has expanded to include other destinations, such as Hawthorn Mall or other stores, Lakeview Fitness Center, College of Lake County or Aspen Drive library. Village officials say the service is getting tied up and resources stretched.
"What happened is it has turned into a taxi service, which is not a bad thing if we have the ability to provide that service," Fleischhauer said.
Frustrated riders sometimes are told there is no space for them, and other times a public works employee will pick up a rider in a department van.
"Now, we're trying to do a lot more for the seniors because we care, but I think we're failing in terms of service delivery," said David Brown, public works director/village engineer. "We don't have the capacity to provide for all the seniors. We've opened it up to much more services that originally contemplated."
The latest discussion was prompted by the pending retirement Aug. 15 of one of the two part-time drivers, whom officials don't want to replace. The annual cost to the village for drivers and fuel is $43,500. The service averages 175 riders a month but has a core of 26 to 28 riders, Brown said.
"We think we should really take the opportunity to see which services are really important and make a change," Brown said. "How do we provide good service, maybe in a different way?"
Initially, Brown proposes to run the service on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and restrict its use for medical appointments.
Fleischhauer said the service originally was limited to those 65 and over but the age was dropped to 55. There also is more senior housing in town than in 1989, he added.
That includes the Victory Centre of Vernon Hills, which is the top trip generator, mainly to pick up prescriptions at a Walgreens store "literally 100 yards away," Fleischhauer said.
"We're not meeting the true needs," he added.
Fleischhauer noted there are three other entities -- Pace, Vernon Township and Libertyville Township -- providing transportation for seniors in Vernon Hills. The village will be exploring possibilities such as a voucher system or partnering with an existing service.
"Any of those options would be more cost-effective than what we're doing today, and if you're using, say, a voucher system, you essentially have an unlimited size fleet that can serve the seniors better and get them where they want to go whenever they want to go," Fleischhauer said.
Options are expected to be presented to the village board at its Aug. 13 meeting.
"It seems very inefficient what we have right now," said Trustee David Oppenheim. "There has to be a better way."