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Planning Commission Looks To Address Tri-County Transit Gaps

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The Tri-County Regional Planning Commission is exploring potential solutions to close gaps in public transit access across the area.

“Public transit is more than just a big city bus going to bus stops and picking people up, dropping people off,” said Reema Abi-Akar, a planner with the TCRPC. “It also involves smaller vehicles that you call in advance, and they'll meet you where you are, and take you where you need to go.”

A recent study conducted by the TCRPC and the Lochmueller Group indicates the Tri-County’s transit “gray area” covers 12 municipalities, including Morton, Dunlap, Washington, and Germantown Hills, as well as urbanized unincorporated portions of Peoria, Tazewell, and Woodford counties.

“Basically, if you live in any of these locations, you can't just walk out find a bus stop — and actually, you can even call a public transit agency to pick you up with a demand response option,” said Abi-Akar, noting the gray territory has about 87,000 residents.

Abi-Akar said that instead of creating new bus stops or routes, the preferred solutions identified in the study involve either a “demand response” call-ahead service, or micro-transit options.

“Demand response is where you call in advance and ask to be picked up from a certain location and dropped off in a certain location,” she said. “With that, usually you have to call 24 hours in advance, and then you are able to schedule a ride.

“Micro-transit is similar to Uber and Lyft, where you can schedule it on your phone potentially and you can have a ride sooner than 24 hours in advance. So, it provides more technological options and it is a little more flexible with the timing.”

Still to be determined is how to pay for any transit expansion into these gray areas. Abi-Akar said it’s unclear whether the Biden infrastructure plans would be able to provide any funding. Beyond that, Abi-Akar suggests public-private partnerships or state and federal grants as possibilities that can be could explored.

“The logistics of the funding get a little complicated, but suffice it to say, there are options,” she said. “It's just that somebody basically has to plan to delve further into them to fill these gaps.”

Abi-Akar said one possible long-term solution would be to create a regional transit agency to oversee and connect multiple services across the Tri-County. In theory, this could link the existing Greater Peoria Mass Transit District, or CityLink, with the Morton-based We Care transportation provider that serves rural areas in Tazewell and Woodford counties.

Abi-Akar said the ultimate goal is to provide more transportation possibilities across the region, particularly for those who need them most.

“People with disabilities, seniors, and people with low incomes, all of these people would benefit, perhaps more than the average person if there were transit options in their area,” she said. “Currently in this region, there is a significant amount of infrastructure and planning for cars and personal vehicles. But the key really would be to provide people with options.”

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