Pace Bus Route 355 Wentworth Limited needs increased ridership to survive

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“At the end of the day, we want to save this route.”

by Jennifer Yos

LANSING, Ill. (February 1, 2020) – When Lansing resident John Gehring heard rumors last summer that Pace Bus Route 355 was on a watch list, he decided to take action. Knowing that other Lansing residents like him depend on Bus Route 355 Wentworth Limited for their livelihoods, and believing that for some it is the only affordable connection with the rest of the public transit system, Gehring spoke to Lansing Mayor Patty Eidam, and he began an online petition requesting that Pace increase service on the currently limited route. Gehring’s premise is that a more generous timetable will promote increased ridership and safeguard the route’s sustainability.

Current route schedule is literally limited

Currently the Pace 355 limited bus timetable offers riders:

  • Seven weekday-only northbound rides along Ridge Road and Wentworth Avenue in Lansing, between 5:21am and 7:44am
  • Seven weekday-only late afternoon/early evening southbound rides to Lansing, between 3:57pm and 6:39pm

The morning rides travel through Lansing, Calumet City, and Burnham, ending at the South Shore Line Hegewisch Station, where many riders connect to the city via bus or train. The late afternoon/early evening rides begin at the Hegewisch Station and travel through Burnham and Calumet City back to Lansing.

Pace Route 355 Wentworth Limited timetable as of January 2020 (Photo: Jennifer Yos)

Gehring and others would like to see more rides offered between the 8:00am and 4:00pm time gaps—122 supporters signed Gehring’s online petition in favor of an increased timetable.

John Gehring attended the January Board meeting to hear what Pace had to say. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Working toward solutions

In response to Gehring’s concerns, Mayor Eidam arranged for Pace’s Community Relations Representative Jessica Rybarczyk and Chief Communications Officer Maggie Daly Skogsbakken to attend the Village Board’s January 21 Committee of the Whole meeting. Gehring was present for the meeting as well.

Village Administrator Dan Podgorski introduced the topic in his Village Administrator’s report: “One of the benefits of having Mayor Eidam on the Mayors and Managers Transportation Committee is she gets to interact with a lot of the Regional Transportation planners and liaisons. And a couple of months ago the Mayor came back from one such transportation committee meeting with some information from Pace regarding one of the two routes that serves Lansing. Pace serves us with Route 355, which is called a limited route, and also Route 358 Torrence Avenue…. Our numbers for the Route 355 are…declining…and starting to cross over into some benchmarks that cause Pace to take a harder look on whether or not it makes sense to continue that route.”

Podgorski continued, “We know that there are Lansing residents who depend on that route, and rather than just kind of wring our hands and send out an email blast, we thought, well, let’s do something about this. Let’s try to promote the declining ridership on that Pace route and see if we can’t generate some information that maybe causes some people to take a second look at it.”

Village Communications Director Ken Reynolds shared a presentation outlining facts about both of Lansing’s bus routes—data show a 35% drop in Route 358 Torrence ridership since 2010 and a 45% drop in Route 355 Wentworth Limited.

(Graphic: Ken Reynolds’ PowerPoint slide)

Riders and dollars

John Gehring, Pace, and Mayor Eidam are all in agreement that promoting and increasing ridership is necessary if the route is to survive. A catch-22 seems to exist, however: Gehring believes an increased timetable is needed now in order to increase ridership, but Pace needs the recovery ratio (percentage of operating costs covered by passenger revenue) to be 30-40% before they can consider investing in an increased time schedule. Currently Route 355’s recovery ratio is at 14.3%.

Complicating the ridership/recovery ratio factor is the “subsidy per rider” dollar amounts. Many 355 riders are in the free-ride or reduced-fare programs, and according to Pace’s Chief Communications Officer Maggie Daly Skogsbakken, Pace is no longer receiving state reimbursement for these programs.

Community Relations Representative Jessica Rybarczyk emphasized Pace’s willingness to work with Lansing to “promote Pace services, to grow ridership, and keep these routes around.” She explained that Route 355 has been operating since 1985, and at one time it did operate all the way from downtown Lansing to downtown Chicago. The route was restructured about ten years ago and services were limited.

“Route 355 has fallen into what we call ‘Code Yellow’ for many years,” said Rybarczyk. “We are seeing approximately 50 people riding this bus on a total of seven trips each way. That does not mean that these are all Lansing residents—that encompasses the ridership as a whole, so they certainly could be boarding in Lansing, they could be boarding in Calumet City, or in Burnham.”

“The more people riding throughout any of those communities is better for the health of that route as a whole,” said Rybarczyk.

Rybarczyk told the Village Trustees that public transit ridership is declining in communities across the nation, due to a variety of factors—telecommuting, flexible work hours, increases in car ownership when the economy goes up, and the emergence of ridesharing options. “We are certainly trying to work better with rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft for those last mile connections,” she said, “instead of working against them.”

Working together

Pace will help Lansing promote bus route ridership, and Rybarczyk listed the following promotional ideas. Pace can:

  • Create and print Lansing-specific flyers to be included in water bills and new resident packets.
  • Provide content for the Village newsletter, the Village website, and Village social media platforms.
  • Provide hard copies of bus schedules for residents to pick up at whatever locations we determine are most visible—Village Hall, the Lansing Library, and the Lan-Oak Park District, for example.
  • Create and print large poster-sized pieces of information to be displayed throughout town.
  • Participate in community events such as resource fairs and job fairs.
  • Provide a Pace bus for parades and Touch-a-Truck events, along with demonstrations about how residents can put their bikes on a bus.

Rybarczyk said Pace is also happy to entertain other ideas Lansing residents and officials present to them. She commended Lansing for reaching out to Pace and for actually wanting to do something about the ridership decline, and she thanked Mayor Eidam for paying attention.

“We are trying”

Mayor Eidam responded, “For me, everything that Jessica [Rybarczyk] gives to the South Suburban Mayors and Managers’ Transportation Committee every month started to make sense to me when one of our very own residents that lives on Route 355 depends on that route to get him to work every day. I had the opportunity to talk to John Gehring over the summer at Fox Pointe, and he began to tell me his concerns.”

Eidam relayed those concerns to Rybarczyk, and was sympathetic to Pace’s dilemma as well. “Pace only has so much money; Lansing only has so much money,” said Eidam at the meeting. “So for me, it’s been good to be in touch with John [Gehring] and at least let him know that we’re trying on his behalf.

“And so here we are tonight, John, and we are trying, not just for you, but for all of our residents, and we’re trying to help Pace as well, because I understand the monetary constraints that they’re under.”

Pace’s Chief Communications Officer Maggie Daly Skogsbakken added later, “Communities that are willing to partner with us—that is something we have found is beneficial. They know their constituents and their residents better than we ever will. And they reach them in ways that we cannot. At the end of the day, we want to save this route. If we cannot, there are alternatives we can explore that keep accessibility in the community.”