A Pace bus route that has its roots in an early 20th century streetcar line that traveled through North Riverside, Riverside and Brookfield is among those slated to be shut down by April 1, 2019 at the latest as the suburban mass transit agency seeks to control costs in part by shedding lightly used routes.
Earlier in October, Pace unveiled its 2019 budget, which included the elimination of 14 bus routes, Route 304 among them. The route provides service between North Riverside Park Mall and downtown LaGrange.
Pace board member Terry Carr said the elimination of the routes will assist Pace in launching service enhancements elsewhere on routes that are strong performers.
“A perfect storm of declining revenue and state funding loss does not leave Pace with many resources to invest in service,” Carr said on Oct. 25 at the Howard Mohr Community Center in Forest Park during one of 12 public hearings the agency conducted during the last two weeks of October throughout suburban Chicago.
The 14 routes chosen for elimination are, Carr said, “among the poorest performers” in the Pace system and could be sacrificed while maintaining regional balance.
Carr provided an overview of Route 304’s performance over the last decade, showing that daily ridership had plummeted from 620 per day in 2008 to just 71 per day in 2018 – an 89 percent decline.
However, Pace’s own actions have contributed to that decline, according to the agency’s own analysis. Weekend service on Route 304 was eliminated in 2010, and about that same time Pace eliminated the route’s service between the North Riverside Mall and the CTA Pink Line terminal at 54th Avenue and Cermak Road in Cicero.
That decision was made because there were two other bus routes that also served that area – Pace’s Route 322 bus and the CTA’s Route 21 bus.
“There was just way too much service for the [Cermak Road] corridor,” said Erik Llewellyn, Pace’s section manager for service, planning and scheduling.
However, when that link from the mall to 54th Avenue was eliminated, Route 304 became less attractive to commuters.
“People liked having the direct service option to the Pink Line,” Llewellyn said, “so when we cut the service back to reduce service duplication, the ridership essentially went away with it, because people did not want to make two transfers.”
However, the line is attractive to one particular set of commuters – Brookfield Zoo employees and the zoo’s seasonal summer workers, because Route 304 stops right at Ridgewood and Golf avenues, just outside the zoo’s South Gate.
Rashid Shaw, a 22-year-old Berwyn resident, was on his way home from his foodservice job at Brookfield Zoo on Oct. 25, waiting at North Riverside Park Mall to transfer to a Pace Route 322 or CTA Route 21 bus from the mall when he was informed of the impending shutdown of Route 304.
“I’ll probably have to find another route. It’ll definitely take longer,” Shaw said.
It gets especially tough on the weekends – particularly Sundays when the zoo is open but many buses don’t run.
While the Route 331 bus runs down First Avenue from Cermak Road Monday through Saturday, it doesn’t run most Sundays. On those days, he takes the 322 bus to First Avenue, but has to walk 30 minutes from Cermak Road to the zoo.
“It’s awful in the winter,” he said.
Meanwhile, Brookfield Zoo officials expressed concern over the potential shutdown of Route 304 and plan on asking the bus service to reconsider the move.
Jennifer Baader, the Chicago Zoological Society’s vice president of government affairs, said an informal internal survey of staff revealed about 70 employees who are actively employed or who plan to return as seasonals next year use Route 304. That number does not include future hires.
“All we know is that it would impact our ability to hire local,” said Baader. “As far as the impact on our existing employees, I’m not sure I have an answer right now.”
Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis said that a small number of students use Route 304 to get to school daily, though the number ramps up to between one and two dozen when the weather gets cold.
Skinkis said he’s had a conversation with one Pace official about possibly running a bus before and after school, but Skinkis said he’s had no other feedback or confirmation from Pace about whether that might be possible.
The Pace board of directors is expected to vote to approve the agency’s 2019 budget, along with route cuts on Nov. 14.