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A person gets on a Pace paratransit van

This is part of our Moving You series, which examines federally funded programs managed by the RTA that expand transportation options and access for all.

Until this month, seniors and individuals with disabilities in Lake County who used paratransit may have been navigating about 50 service operators, all with different boundaries, hours, and eligibility. These included vanpools, township services, nonprofit programs, fixed-route services, etc. The county itself managed two services: Ride Lake County West and Ride Lake County Central.

But May 1 saw the launch of a borderless, countywide paratransit service for seniors ages 60 and older and individuals with disabilities simply called Ride Lake County. Now, residents in need of paratransit services have one number to call, 1-800-201-6446, to enable them to travel anywhere in the county. Riders schedule their trips from seven days to just two hours in advance, and the vehicles provide curb-to-curb service. Riders can schedule a trip any day of the week from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. with the exception of certain holidays. After six months to a year of getting the program under their belts, Lake County will look at expanding service hours.

Public feedback on Ride Lake County has been overwhelmingly positive, especially among those individuals who would use the service, according to testimonials from the county: “All I can say is finally! We have tried for years for this to happen.” “Thank you! This is life changing for folks!”

“Everyone’s been so excited about this,” said Kevin Carrier, Director of Planning and Programming for the Lake County Division of Transportation. “Everyone across the board is saying this is a long time coming and that now they or their loved ones are going to be able to get to doctor’s appointments or places they couldn’t before, and that this is a game changer for them.”

The county, Pace Suburban Bus, and the Lake County Coordinated Transportation Services Committee (LCCTSC) came together on May 6 with members of the community to celebrate Ride Lake County’s launch. The ceremony recognized more than 15 years of work to make this coordinated service a reality. Since 2008, the RTA has allocated $1.9 million in federal funding to support Ride Lake County West and Ride Lake County Central through the Section 5310: Enhanced Mobility of Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities Program. Moving forward, Lake County will seek Section 5310 funding from the RTA once again to help sustain their increased, countywide service. Ride Lake County is sponsored by Lake County and Pace Suburban Bus.

The road to Ride Lake County can be traced back to the 1980s, when a variety of dial-a-ride services began functioning in the county. In 2005, the LCCTSC formed to work toward a countywide system and eliminate gaps in service. Five years later, Ride Lake County West launched, and in 2015, Ride Lake County Central was introduced. Those two services ran through LCCTSC and Lake County. The following year, the county began a paratransit market study to find opportunities to move closer to borderless, countywide service.

“There was still a patchwork quilt of services,” Carrier said. “It was confusing for the users—different services had different hours, different costs, and differences in where you could go to and from.”

The study lasted for a few years, and the top recommendation that came out of it was to form a working group to determine who the appropriate lead agency for countywide paratransit would be. The working group recommended Lake County as that lead agency, and after close work with Pace and other partners, Ride Lake County was born.

“We had buy-in from everyone almost instantaneously,” Carrier said. “Once we started presenting, there was such a need and desire for countywide service that there wasn’t much pushback. Everyone has been really supportive.”

That support among townships, municipalities, nonprofits, government agencies, and others illustrates an understanding of the importance of mobility access in order to live an independent, fulfilling life.

“One thing we noticed early on in the pandemic is that the numbers on paratransit and dial-a-ride didn’t drop off as much as public transportation and road usage,” Carrier said. “Maybe early on, but they bounced back and have stayed pretty steady. That just shows the need of people who use this service; maybe they don’t have other viable options. That was the big thing that stuck out to myself and others on staff here. There is a strong need for people who use this service. And Ride Lake County takes geographic barriers away.”

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Read posts about how the RTA collaborates with CTA, Metra and Pace to plan, invest in and move the Chicago region’s transit system.

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