Pace would drop routes and transfer fees but boost electric buses under new budget
There's much to unpack in Pace's 2023 proposed budget -- from building an electric bus fleet to cutting 69 routes that were suspended when COVID-19 struck.
Here's a look at what's in the fiscal plan as hearings start this week.
"Our goal is to get more people to ride transit," Executive Director Melinda Metzger said. "In the next year, there's a lot of new things we're offering especially on the environmental front with 21 vehicles that are electric."
Pace expects delivery of its first electric bus this year, with 20 more coming in 2023 to the agency's North Division in Waukegan. The 21 buses are a foundational project "that brings us closer to an era of zero emissions" by Pace's goal of 2040, Metzger said.
Meanwhile, the agency is expected to permanently eliminate 69 routes initially suspended in spring 2020 as the pandemic surged.
Most were feeder routes taking suburban workers to Metra stations and back home.
Although essential workers continued to use Pace, the number of people traveling to office jobs plummeted in 2020, and demand from that sector is still low, Metzger said.
Currently, about 65,000 riders a day use Pace compared to prepandemic totals of 100,000.
The buses served communities such as Des Plaines, Glenview, Naperville, Rosemont and Warrenville, and their loss is significant, said Charles Paidock, of Citizens Taking Action for transit-dependent riders.
"Pace serves a very vital service in providing integrated transit with routes to and from Metra stations," Paidock said. "Pace's decision will affect the ridership of this other transit system. (Also) there are routes that service other passenger needs, which now will go unmet."
The targeted routes had historically low ridership, and the agency is hard-pressed to recruit drivers for its busiest buses, Metzger said.
But "we'll let people talk to us about the effects of this and we'll look at it."
The board is scheduled to vote in November on the $303.4 million budget, an 11.5% hike from 2022's plan.
The spike in expenses is related to high diesel and natural gas costs, plus hiring more employees as passengers return, officials said. Pace's budget, as well as the CTA's and Metra's, is still being bolstered by federal COVID-19 relief.
Fares won't increase, and fees ranging from 20 to 30 cents will be dropped for bus transfers. New products include one-day and three-day passes for unlimited rides on Pace and the Chicago Transit Authority.
Pace also is branching out to reach customers with tactics such as On-Demand pickups within 10 suburban zones.
Commuters can reserve a $2 ride in a small bus that typically stops at train stations and travels on major roads.
For example, Arlington Heights/Rolling Meadows On-Demand trips are bounded by Euclid Avenue, Arlington Heights Road, I-90/Golf Road and Route 53.
On-Demand service runs from early morning to evening with zones in Aurora, Batavia, Hoffman Estates, Naperville, Round Lake, St. Charles/Geneva, Vernon Hills/Mundelein, West Joliet and Wheaton/Winfield. Rides need to be booked at least an hour in advance.
Another experiment is the VanGo program that lets people reserve a Pace van at the Lake Forest or Lake-Cook Metra stations and drive to employment centers such as Baxter International. An expansion to Palatine is under consideration.
"We give you a code for the vehicle, it unlocks the door, it unlocks the key, you can take it to work and back at night to the train station" along with co-workers, Metzger said.
VanGo drivers must have a credit card and a good driving record, plus meet other requirements. A round trip is $5.
You should know
Whether leprechauns or a bullfighting museum are on your bucket list, United Airlines will offer both options next year at O'Hare International Airport. Direct flights to Barcelona, Spain, and Shannon, Ireland, start in May.
Expect delays overnight this week on Skokie Highway (Route 41) as IDOT replaces rumble strips between Deerfield Road/Central Avenue and Park Avenue. Work will run from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. and should wrap up in two weeks.