North Riverside hopes to acquire two 12-passenger buses that are also wheelchair accessible.Photo courtesy of PACE

As a way to expand its transportation service for senior citizens and others without access to their own vehicles, the village of North Riverside has applied to lease two 12-passenger buses from the Pace Suburban Bus Service, as part of that agency’s Locally Based Vehicle Program.

The village for years has offered a Rider Program for senior citizens and residents with disabilities. The Rider Program allows seniors to pay $1.50 each way for a cab to take them on trips to local stores or medical appointments within five miles of the village.

But the buses will allow for a greater number of people who don’t have vehicles to take advantage of the ride program, and allows for shopping trips, hospital visits and doctor’s appoint-ments to not only North Riverside businesses, but to any of a dozen Proviso Township and neigh-boring communities.

“Communities use it as a senior service, but if there’s some-one without a driver’s license, and they need to get to Loyola, they can use this,” said Village Administrator Guy Belmonte.

Each trip will cost $1 and the bus would be available to residents Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., said Belmonte. Users can use a Dial-A-Ride phone reservation program to schedule trips 24 hours in advance. Each bus has 12 seats and can accommodate up to two people in wheelchairs.

As long as North Riverside intends on abiding by the conditions of use for the program — that the buses are used for general public transit and not for commercial or charter use — it’s a good bet they will receive the buses from Pace, according to Rocky Donahue, Pace’s deputy executive director for external relations.

According to its application North Riverside will uses the buses “to expand its current service by adding 12 communities within Proviso Township, along with neighboring communities such as Riverside and Berwyn, where we will transport riders to doctors, hospitals, therapy and shopping.”

“It would fit right in line with our program,” said Donahue, who added Pace has similar arrangements with 90 other units of government in the region. The buses are purchased by Pace through federal funding, which means the uses for the buses come with “a lot of requirements that are federally mandated,” according to Donahue.

The program, which has been in existence for about a decade, was in response to changes in the way people use public transportation.

“Traditional transit is not necessarily the answer,” said Donahue of the model where a large bus drives a set route on a set schedule throughout the day.

This program allows for more flexibility and is more responsive to individual needs. It also allows communities to have a say in the kind of public transit service available to their residents.

It could take a couple of months for the buses to appear in North Riverside. In addition to signing a contract with Pace and paying a $1,000 deposit on each bus (plus a monthly fee of $100), the village will be responsible for recruiting and paying drivers, who must submit to background checks and a drug test and undergo training by Pace. North Riverside must also insure the buses and pay for maintenance.

According to Sue Scarpiniti, the present Rider Program has cost the village an average of about $8,000 annually during the past three years.