By Bob Uphues
Folks who depended on Pace bus Route 304 to get to the South Gate of Brookfield Zoo for work or to Riverside-Brookfield High School aren't completely out of luck with the discontinuation of that route on Aug. 12.
But, they'll have to do a bit more planning, even with the Riverside/Brookfield/LaGrange section of Route 304 folded into another Pace line as of Monday.
The good news, for anyone living west of First Avenue, is that service to RBHS and the South Gate of Brookfield Zoo will remain fairly regular on weekdays as part of a reconfigured Route 331.
Thirteen of the route's 33 buses each day will follow a route that will continue south on First Avenue from 31st Street to Ridgewood Road and then head west, past the high school, the zoo's South Gate and down Washington Avenue in Brookfield to LaGrange Road.
From there, the bus will head south to Ogden and then circle back east to Burlington Avenue and back to LaGrange Road, where it will make a return trip north and east along the same route.
"We're pleased our students will still have the opportunity to get to school in the morning and home after school [via bus]," said Riverside-Brookfield High School Superintendent Kevin Skinkis.
While student usage of the bus line is not significant in the fall and spring, said Skinkis, it does pick up during the winter.
"We're pleased there's still that alternative service," he said.
The other 20 buses of Route 331 each weekday will head west on 31st Street from First Avenue to Maple Avenue and then to Grand Boulevard south to Brookfield Avenue to the Brookfield Village Hall commuter parking lot. Route 331 buses will no longer travel south of the BNSF Railroad tracks on Maple Avenue or along Prairie Avenue.
The 13 buses that incorporate part of the old Route 304 are spread out throughout the day in roughly one-hour intervals, leaving the LaGrange Road/Hillgrove Avenue stop in LaGrange beginning at 5:06 a.m.
Maggie Daly Skogsbakken, media relations manager for Pace, said that anyone with mobility issues who used to take the Route 304 buses can take advantage of the company's paratransit service. Information on that service can be found at pacebus.com/sub/paratransit.
Anyone used to taking the Route 304 bus from its North Riverside Park Mall terminal to the zoo will have to take the Pace Route 322 bus to First Avenue and transfer to one of the 13 Route 331 buses that follow the alternate route to the South Gate on weekdays.
"People should be OK, but there will be a period of adjustment," Skogsbakken said.
On Saturdays, Sundays and holidays there will continue to be no special routes to the South Gate. However, most of the Route 331 weekday buses and all of the route's buses on weekends will stop opposite the North Gate of Brookfield Zoo.
Pace decided to phase out Route 304 after holding a dozen public meetings last October to explain their rationale. The route was one of 14 chosen for elimination by Pace due to declining ridership, which made them "among the poorest performers" in the Pace system, said Pace board member Terry Carr at one of the public meetings last year.
Carr added that ridership for Route 304 had dropped from 620 people daily in 2008 to just 71 in 2018. That decline, however, was due in part to service cuts Pace made on the route.
Pace had eliminated weekend service for Route 304 in 2010, and also eliminated a leg of the route between the CTA's 54th Avenue Pink Line station and North Riverside Park Mall.
Route 304 was something of a legacy line, roughly following a route through Cicero, Berwyn, North Riverside, Riverside, Brookfield and LaGrange once served by an old streetcar line that converted to bus service in the late 1940s.