West Central Mass Transit District is turning 10

It may be older, but it is also bigger and better. West Central Mass Transit District (WCMTD) reaches its 10th year in operation on April 15, celebrating the first ride ever given on that date in 2004. Managing Director (officially since November 2006) Jean Jumper describes its creation, saying “they really had to fight an uphill battle,” with the task force created in 1996 having to prove that there truly were enough potential riders to fill a need for public transportation. Combining the need with the monies available from the Illinois Department of Transportation, it still took around seven years for a downstate public transportation to come on board. Finally, on April 15, 2004, Larry Whewell became the first rider to ever step on a bus – and still rides to this day. Seeming to further validate his support of our transportation system, Whewell also holds a position on the WCMTD Board of Directors.

Since its birth, WCMTD has certainly grown. Initially, most rides were given via contracted transit with Executive Transportation in a 1996 Ford 14-passenger paratransit vehicle. In early 2006, tells Jumper, the first official WCMTD bus was obtained from Barton Stone by way of an interagency transfer through the Department of Transportation. “At this point, we were covering both Morgan and Scott Counties. In the first 15 days of operation, we provided 71 one-way trips,” reports Jumper.  Back then, the two 14-passenger buses were handled by one solitary employee, whereas the public transportation provider now gives employment to 68 individuals throughout the system, says Jumper. The staff includes administration, dispatchers, drivers, maintenance and personnel; however, they do not employ a mechanic. “We do all mechanical work in the communities of service. I’m an old Chamber exec, you have to understand, so I like to put back in the community,” explains Jumper.  They buy fuel at local gas stations just like everyone else, any time they can.

WCMTD generally requires three dispatchers each day in the Jacksonville office to coordinate transport for a variety of things, including: “medical, work, school, errands, social, retail or, well, as I tell some of my friends – ‘anything that’s legal’,” says Jumper with a laugh and a good-natured smile. The transport is available from 6am until 10pm Monday – Friday (with the last ride generally at 9:45 pm), and from 7:30am until 10pm on Saturdays and Sundays. It is $2 for a one-way ticket anywhere within the Jacksonville or South Jacksonville limits, giving children 5 years old and under a free ride when accompanied by a parent. As we are not the “big city,” we require a different system of public transportation; instead of the fixed route with the bus traveling on a schedule from one stop to the next, “ours is a demand-response transportation, going curb to curb, and in some cases – door to door,” adds Jumper. “We really try to accommodate,” feels Jumper. Everything is kept on a computerized system that displays the number of buses out, the number of seats available, and the number of openings at hand in the day. She describes it as a lot of coordinating and give-and-take, figuring schedules by “literally putting that jigsaw puzzle together minute-by-minute and day-by-day.”

Through the years, WCMTD has continued to fill a need for transportation of seniors or disability (the original thoughts as to the need for a public transit), but a large number of folk use it just to go back and forth from work. Those first two buses have become now a fleet of 42 vehicles scattered throughout six counties. The transport “allows people in outlying counties to come in to Jacksonville for services that their town may not have, especially to fill a medical or educational need,” recognizes Jumper. The WCMTD Board consists of representatives from each of the counties, with the operation as a whole rightfully celebrating its growth on its 10 year anniversary. The growth and obvious need is demonstrated in its ridership. From July 2012 through June 2013, the West Central Mass Transit District provided 193,965 one-way trips over 1.044 million miles. Even after its first year of operation, WCMTD ranked 14 of 25 for public transportation in downstate Illinois. Understanding that with only two vehicles and maybe five employees, the transport managed to supply 15,761 one-way trips over 57,577 miles during its first full year.

The public is invited to attend the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce’s “After Hours” event, which is held from 4:30pm – 6pm on Tuesday, April 15th, at West Central Mass Transit District. WCMTD is located at 1120 W. Walnut in Jacksonville and will be holding drawings for (10) 30-day free passes to be given away – all you need to do to enter…is ride.

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Kyla Hurt is a capable boondoggler trained in the arts; she’s also an accomplished event coordinator with experience from museum fundraising to art festivals. She enjoys puppies, sunshine, and good radishes – and wit. Wit is good, too.

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