Transit agencies seek pilot program to make transit more affordable, convenient in south suburbs

HARVEY, Ill. (WLS) -- Transit agencies like Metra and Pace that operate in the south suburbs hope a pilot program will give them the ability to make transit there more affordable and convenient, and raise ridership.

Dr. Lisa Green and Dr.Mia Cross work at a clinic in the south suburbs that serves 60,000 people, and have learned from their patients that what would be a 10 minute drive becomes an hour and a half commute on public transportation.

"Our patients have a hard time accessing transportation to and from, and that's very critical to provide adequate health care," said Dr. Green. "So anything that can improve access to transportation to meet the needs of the community makes it very interesting for us, because that's one of the barriers to health care."

Accessibility to health care is a major issue, as is finding steady work. The unemployment rate is higher in southern Cook County; as of 2017 it was 13.7%. But with more access to transportation and lower fares that may change.

Metra and Pace are seeking improvements to public transportation and relying on public feedback.

"Right now I think just cost more vouchers and things like that, so that those that don't have jobs but have a need to access the services it needs to be affordable to them," said Dr. Criss

Cook County has proposed eight preliminary scenarios to improve the transit system with the top option reducing fares on Metra Electric and Rock Island lines, providing free transfers between Metra, Pace and CTA.

Jim Derwinsky of Metra said they're looking for ways to keep the fares low.

"We don't want to raise fares every year, and we've unfortunately had to raise them six of the last eight years mostly because the lack of a capitol bill within the state," Derwinsky said.

And for senior citizens like Wylma Harmon who depend on Pace, the biggest concern is scheduling.

"I would like for Pace to have a better Sunday schedule and then also that there's a better connection between Metra and Pace especially, on the weekends, because if you miss one Pace you gotta wait an hour," Harmon said.

Cook County officials said It's because of these barriers to public transportation that ridership is declining. According to their study there have been 5.7 million fewer rides since 2002.

Jennifer Killen, assistant superintendent of Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways, said she wants people in the south suburbs to know that the agencies care about them.

"We truly want to find innovative solutions to the barriers that exist to transportation," said Killen
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