Peoria County Board considers lowering Country Care bus fares

John Sharp

Jane Rosenbohm’s daughter, Jessica, gets up at 6 a.m. every day, takes a Country Care bus into Peoria for her job and returns home via a similar bus by 3:30 p.m.

It’s a punctual and responsible transit program, Rosenbohm said. She says the service is worth the $12 one-way fare because it gives Jessica, who has a disability, an opportunity to work and live independently.

But Peoria County officials say ridership has declined and the $12 fare is too high for many of the riders, who are elderly, disabled or on fixed incomes.

The County Board will vote Oct. 14 to lower the fare to $3 for Country Care riders who reside within Peoria County outside city limits. If the board approves the change, it will be in place for everyone who wants to take a Country Care bus in Peoria County on Oct. 15.

The county’s transportation committee unanimously approved the new fare Wednesday.

“The drop in price will especially help people with fixed incomes,” Rosenbohm, a teacher at Brimfield Grade School, said.

County Administrator Patrick Urich said the fare was dropped in part to maximize the state and federal dollars the county receives to pay for the service.

He said the county gets about $400,000 annually in federal and state grant money to pay for public transportation services provided by the Rural Peoria County Council on Aging.

In recent years, though, about $165,000 was left unspent from that money. The county wound up returning it to the state, which then reallocated it for similar programs elsewhere.

Urich said the hope is the lowered fee will help increase ridership among Country Care’s seven, 14-passenger buses.

Country Care provided about 2,300 trips last year. Urich said the numbers are down, although the county did not have a comparable statistic from a previous year. Cramer said 25 new riders were added last month.

“We’re very pleased,” Jo Cramer, general manager and executive director with the Rural Peoria County Council on Aging, said about the proposed fare change. “We’ve been working to get this changed. It’s a great help to us.”

The county’s reduced rate also puts it in line with other counties. In Tazewell and Woodford counties, riders with the We Care Inc. bus service are charged a $3 adult fare.

Urich said the county’s $12 fare had been long tied to a Medicaid rate, which he believes is simply too high.

“It breaks your heart when someone would call in and say they could not afford the $12,” Cramer said.

The drop in fares is expected to also help alleviate costs for community service agencies such as Parc and Senior World, which pay a contractual one-way rate of $8.50 for Country Care’s services. The new fare will be $3 for those organizations as well.

“That will help them out a lot better with their budget,” Cramer said.

For Rosenbohm, the service - whether it’s $12 one-way or $3 - has been a benefit.

“It gives (Jessica) independence in becoming the adult she is and gives us the security to know she is safe and gets her to her job on time,” she said. “It’s a blessing to us.”