MORRIS – The wheels of government can’t keep pace with the wheels of the Grundy Transit System.
It took three years, but GTS last week received a new bus the state promised to provide in 2011. GTS Director Sherey Zerbian said the agency is slated to receive by July of this year four additional buses – including one hybrid model – that were granted in 2012, but she is not positive those will arrive as planned.
“I’m going to keep good thoughts, but I won’t put anything in stone,” Zerbian said at the Grundy County community relations committee meeting last week.
With the new addition, GTS now has five buses. Zerbian said she hopes to use one of the buses as a back-up vehicle, so the agency does not have to cancel any rides when a bus needs repairs.
“This comes at a good time, because our current buses are really racking up the miles,” Zerbian said.
GTS ridership is increasing exponentially and will need the larger fleet to accommodate the growing demand.
Ridership has increased sevenfold from about 1,800 riders in 2009 to 7,964 in 2013. In just the past eight months, the system provided 7,534 rides, which is a 50 percent jump in ridership when compared to the same period the previous year.
About 18 percent of all riders are using the transit system to go to and from school. The growing population of education-oriented riders has prompted Joliet Junior College to support the transit system in the amount of $5,000 annually.
GTS expects to receive its first payment from JJC in July and plans to offer an additional Joliet trip each day by this summer, Zerbian said.
“We actually just stared picking up one person who is an employee [at JJC], which was the hope all along – that [it] would not just take students but employees as well,” Zerbian told the committee.
Zerbian attended the city of Morris finance and administration committee meeting Monday to ask the municipality to consider providing a $20,000 donation to the system since about 45 percent of the system’s riders are Morris residents.
“This is where everybody in the county comes, is into Morris,” Zerbian told the committee.
GTS is funded primarily through two grants – one state and one federal – and is required to find a mandated amount of local matching dollars in order to receive the entirety of grant funds.
Currently, Minooka contributes $5,000 annually and the county $20,000 annually. Zerbian said Minooka is considering increasing its contribution amount next year to account for the added Minooka residents using the system.
“There are dollars in the budget for donations like this,” Morris Mayor Richard Kopczick said. “We’ll have to take this request along with the other requests to see where we pan out and if we have the ability to afford this.”
New technology also is helping GTS adapt to the growing number of riders.
Grundy County Technology Department employee Dave Ostrander developed a web application for GTS that allows the dispatcher to quickly determine if a rider is within the system’s coverage area.
The dispatcher plugs in a potential pick-up address and the app will show where it is in relation to GTS’s allowed bus routes.
“This has been an invaluable tool,” Zerbian told the community relations committee last week. “When our dispatcher started, she’d never dispatched, and she didn’t know Joliet so she was flying blind before this. It’s been an absolute life-saver.”