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Grundy Transit System limits rides

The Grundy Transit System has seen a major increase in ridership causing it to have to limit rides until the budget can be adjusted.
The Grundy Transit System has seen a major increase in ridership causing it to have to limit rides until the budget can be adjusted.

MORRIS – The Grundy Transit System’s exponential expansion in ridership is causing some “growing pains” for the program, GTS Director Sherey Zerbian said.

In the last five years, ridership has increased sevenfold from about 1,800 riders in 2009 to 7,964 in 2013. In just the last eight months, the system provided 7,534 rides, which is a 50 percent jump in ridership comparing it to the same period the previous year.

“It’s grown like crazy,” Zerbian said. “I knew it would grow, but I didn’t expect this.”

Because of the increase, GTS has to limit the number of monthly rides provided until its budget can accommodate the growth.

Zerbian said registered riders, or those with scheduled rides every month, should not be affected, but those who do not typically use the service should call Grundy Transit well in advance to ensure a spot.

Zerbian said the organization is handing out fliers on all of the buses to keep riders informed of the changes.

“It’s new for all of us involved and it’s growing so fast,” Zerbian had. “There’s going to be some bumps in the road.”

Zerbian became director of GTS in 2011, but the program has been in existence since 2000. Zerbian worked to promote the program and secure more funding to expand service.

When Zerbian took over three years ago, the number of registered riders had hovered near 80 for the last 10 years. Today, there are about 800 registered riders using the system.

“Since Sherey’s come on, the program has really taken on a new life,” said Ann Gill, chairwoman of the Grundy County Community Relations Committee.

The quick expansion in ridership did not allow Zerbian much time to expand and adjust the program’s budget.

Since the GTS is primarily funded through federal and state grants, Zerbian said it can take several months to secure new forms of funding because everything has to go through the bureaucratic process.

One state grant that GTS receives has a “local matching” component which requires nonprofits and contributors from the local community to invest money. The grant pays 65 percent, but asks the community to contribute before paying out the remaining 35 percent of the funds.

“It is to subsidize the transit system,” Zerbian said. “They have had the faith that you’re going to have this transit system, they want to see the people in your area have that same faith and contribute.”

One organization contributing to the local match is the Community Nutrition Network. Diane Bumgarner, coordinator for the Grundy County CNN, said the organization uses the transit system to provide rides to local seniors. Specifically, GTS provides rides to CNN’s monthly community meals for seniors.

Bumgarner said that was a contributing factor in the decision to contribute to the transit system’s grant program.

“It’s all about helping seniors,” Bumgarner said. “That’s why we’re doing it.”

Zerbian also is working with state legislators to secure the proper amount of state aid after discovering the county did not receive all of the funding it was supposed to.

GTS may negotiate a new contract with its current bus service provider, which could save the program money as well.

“The county has never encountered something growing like this,” Zerbian said.

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