More than two years after it was first announced, the village of North Riverside next week will roll out a new resident transit program geared toward senior citizens and people with disabilities.

On Feb. 1, the North Riverside Village Board voted unanimously to ink an intergovernmental agreement with Pace in order to participate in the transit agency’s Locally Based Vehicle Program.

While two silver Pace buses have sat parked outside the Village Commons building for the past week and a half, the program will officially start on Monday, Feb. 15, said Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr.

“I’m ecstatic to have gotten the buses,” said Hermanek. “I’m just sorry it took so long.”

According to Hermanek, the delay was due to a lengthy journey through red tape required by the state. For example, he said the village administrator and recreation director needed to undergo background checks and drug checks, even though they won’t be driving the buses, in order to for the village to qualify for the program.

The four part-time drivers who have been hired by the village also had to undergo background and drug tests in addition to training. Since Feb. 1, said Hermanek, the drivers have been getting familiar with the vehicles and the routes they’ll be driving.

The village paid $1,000 each to obtain the buses from Pace and will pay $100 to operate them in addition to insuring and maintaining them.

Riders taking advantage of the new transit program will be charged $1 for each ride/destination. Both buses are wheelchair-accessible, but those in wheelchairs must either be able to operate the wheelchair or have an assistant with them at all times.

Drivers are not allowed to load wheelchair passengers onto the bus, though they may assist people on and off the bus.

While the program is geared toward seniors and the disabled, Hermanek said other ride requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

“We just don’t want it abused or to be used by someone who doesn’t want to spend money on gas to travel,” Hermanek said. “When hardships happen, we’ll see what we can do.”

The bus program will allow riders to venture out a bit further in Proviso and Riverside townships than with the village’s Rider Program, with the boundaries for the program extending to I-294 on the west, Harlem Avenue on the east, North Avenue on the north and roughly Ogden Avenue to the south.

Rides also will be provided to the following hospitals: Loyola University Medical Center, MacNeal Hospital, LaGrange Hospital, Elmhurst Hospital and Gottlieb Hospital.

While the program has certain boundaries, Hermanek said those borders are a bit fluid. For example, if someone wants to go to Oakbrook Center for shopping, that request would be accommodated. The boundaries were set to keep requests reasonable.

“It’s just a rough idea,” Hermanek said. “We understand the buses may be used to go outside the boundaries.”

The only way to reserve a ride is to call the Pace Bus Schedule phone line at 708-373-2922; reservations must be made 24 hours in advance and passengers won’t be allowed to make changes to their destinations or add destinations on the day of a ride.

Calls to schedule rides can be made Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and noon. No voicemail or email reservations will be accepted. Buses will operate Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. If village hall is closed (for a holiday, for example), the buses will not operate.

The program is meant for North Riverside residents only, and passengers will be picked up and dropped off at their homes or another designated location within the village and must stay at their destinations for at least an hour in order to allow the driver to take all passengers to their destinations.

Because rides often will be shared, the route to a particular destination may not be direct. Medical appointments, however, will take precedence over other rides. If passengers are going shopping, they’ll be limited to three bags and drivers will not be able to assist passengers with bags.

The bus program will not replace the Rider Program offered by the village for many years to senior citizens and the disabled. The Rider Program, which will continue to be offered, allows senior citizens to pay $1.50 each way for a cab ride to stores or medical appointments within five miles of the village.

“We really think this will improve the lives of seniors in the village,” Hermanek said.

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