Public transportation hit or miss for those on a limited budget

Charles Schepgen, seen exiting the Pace bus, makes just enough money to pay rent and his bus fare to work at the Pioneer Center, where he has been employed for the past six months. Schepgen takes the bus from Woodstock to McHenry five times a week for his job. He also uses the bus to get to McHenry County College, where he is working on his GED.
Charles Schepgen, seen exiting the Pace bus, makes just enough money to pay rent and his bus fare to work at the Pioneer Center, where he has been employed for the past six months. Schepgen takes the bus from Woodstock to McHenry five times a week for his job. He also uses the bus to get to McHenry County College, where he is working on his GED.

Twenty-eight year old Charles Schepgen jumps on a Pace bus about three blocks from his group home in Woodstock around 7:40 a.m. each day to go to the Pioneer Center for Human Services where he does assembly work.

He makes enough money to pay rent and pay the bus fare, he said.

“[The bus] gets me where I need to go,” Schepgen said.

In McHenry County, there is limited public transportation options as Pace Suburban bus only has three fixed routes, as well as several Dial-a-Ride services. Whether public transportation is convenient and useful depends where the person lives and is going.

“We have to balance our resources over a six-county region,” said Doug Sullivan, the marketing manager for Pace Suburban Bus.

He said Pace would love to provide more fixed routes in McHenry County, but it’s based on demand.

“We’re always tinkering to adapt to changing transportation patterns,” Sullivan said.

Schepgen said because the buses have stops at major locations, such as hospitals, McHenry County College and train stations, there could be extra help to get people to jobs that may not be along a fixed bus route.

Schepgen has seen temp agencies in other states run shuttles to take people to factory jobs.

For Schepgen however, the Pace service is convenient.

“People like the transportation service because it’s cheap and gets them where they need to be on time,” Schepgen said.

Sullivan said most of the Dial-a-Ride services are open to the general public, with the exception of MCRide in McHenry and Dorr townships. MCRide in those townships is limited to seniors and people who are disabled.

Dial-a-Ride costs range from $1.50 to $3 for the general public. Seniors and disabled riders receive discounted fares. The fares depend on how much local community partners and Pace contribute toward the service. Fares cover the difference of the remaining cost.

The Dial-a-Ride programs stay within the communities they cover, except for the MCRide and intercommunity programs that go to different communities.

“Depending on where you live, it could be very easy or a bit of a challenge,” Sullivan said. “If you live near a bus route, and travel some place near that bus route, it’s easy.”

Dial-a-Ride helps fill in the gaps, Sullivan said.

People can call ahead for a pick up a half-hour, hour or day in advance for a lift.

“To me, for $1.50 to call the city of Crystal Lake, only to have to call 30 minutes in advance, go anywhere in town for $1.50, seems easy to use,” Sullivan said. “[However] going from Crystal Lake to Harvard at 2 a.m., might be a challenge.”

Meghan Powell-Filler is the Behavioral Health Residential manager for Pioneer Center, which runs the PADS Day Service center.

She said even though there is public transportation in the county, it’s not the most convenient for those struggling financially.

The fixed routes don’t go to outlying towns such as Hebron, Marengo and Richmond, and they only run from about 6:30 a.m. to about 6 p.m. Also sometimes there are large time gaps between the stops at certain locations.

For people to get to appointments for therapy, doctors visits or even job interviews, could lead to a full-day commitment because of transportation limitations.

“One appointment could take all day,” Powell-Filler said. “And you want to get them out of homelessness, it makes it a little slower.”

The Dial-a-Ride programs also don’t accept passes for fixed routes, which requires people to use cash they may not have, Powell-Filler said.

Powell-Filler said she hears stories every week about people struggling to get around the county on public transit. She added sometimes Dial-a-Ride buses are full.

With buses in the county only operating during the daytime and into the early evening, a person who may have a job on second or third shift would have a difficult time getting to their workplace.

“There’s no transportation for second or third shift,” Powell-Filler said. “If they don’t have their own car, or can’t find a co-worker who would be willing to drive them ... it’s really impossible.”

Christina Petska, 39, of Richmond has a 1988 Jeep Cherokee which can’t run the heat and lights at the same time. She and her husband Ryan have a 2001 truck with tires that need to be replaced.

Because of medical doctors appointments, therapy sessions, or trips to pick up prescriptions, transportation costs can add up.

Transportation accounts for more than a quarter of their budget.

“It seems like I’m putting gas money in there all the time,” Christina Petska said.

With five children living in the house, Lisa Clark, 45, has to carefully budget the miles she puts on the cars, which have mechanical issues, and were passed down to her from relatives.

“Everything is so spread,” said the Richmond resident who lives on a limited income.

However, using public transportation is something she doesn’t consider.

“I’ve never thought about it,” Clark said. “I’ve never seen it in town.”

• Reporter Emily Coleman contributed to this article.

Pace Suburban bus ridership for 2013

Number of rides per month on Pace fixed bus routes and dial-a-ride services in McHenry County. Pace does have van pools that originate in McHenry County, but the bus service doesn’t track ridership for that program.

• January – 19,552

• February – 17,790

• March – 18,463

• April – 20,810

• May – 19,495

• June – 17,068

• July – 19,178

• August – 20,273

• September – 16,524*

• October – 20,972*

* Data is estimated by Pace as ridership numbers have yet to be audited and finalized.

Source: Pace Suburban Bus

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