CHAMPAIGN — Direct bus service to the Stephens Family YMCA of Champaign County probably will begin in January, the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District board decided Wednesday.
The unanimous vote follows a decision two weeks ago by the Champaign Southwest Mass Transit District to begin the process of dissolving. The directors of the smaller MTD, which was formed by referendum in 2006 but has never provided bus service, have invited other possible C-U MTD opponents to form another mass transit district. But if no on takes up the task, the CSWMTD board members say they will ask the Champaign County Board to dissolve their district.
The YMCA is located within the boundaries of the smaller MTD, and the larger MTD passed a resolution last spring stating that it would not provide service into territory outside its boundaries "that is part of another mass transit district."
Wednesday's vote by the MTD board was greeted with gratitude by the director of the YMCA and at least one local advocate for the disabled.
"Personally it helps my son which helps me," said Linda Tortorelli of Champaign. "My son is 23 years old. He's a person with a developmental disability. He can't drive and he uses the MTD to get around town and to his job and to do recreational things. So if I'm not home, he isn't able to get to the Y. So this will be a great opportunity for him to be more independent in getting to a place he likes to recreate at."
Patrick Tortorelli "would go there several times a week if he could, definitely more than he's able to go now because I'm not available during the day to take him there," said his mother, who is director of the autism program at the University of Illinois, and president of the board of Community Services, a support group for families with adult children with disabilities.
"From that work I've heard from lots of people who have expressed frustration about not being able to get to the Y, and they absolutely depend on the bus for their whole life," she said. "I have no idea how many people in the disability community this will impact, but there are a lot. There has been a lot of conversation about this."
Mark Johnson, CEO of the YMCA, said "the number one complaint and comment is about the bus situation, so I would assume that we're going to have tremendous ridership from this. I think it will increase our membership and the members who are already there will make significant use of it too."
Johnson came to the MTD board meeting to appeal for the service.
"Whatever we need to do, the YMCA is ready to sign up and go and have you guys come out and serve us," he told the board. "We're excited to have this possibility in front of us."
The extent of the service to the YMCA hasn't been determined, said MTD director Bill Volk, but it likely will begin in January and will be an extension of the MTD's West Direct van service from the Country Fair Shopping Center.
Johnson said peak demand hours at the YMCA are between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., with the greatest demand between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.
In green-lighting the service to the YMCA, the MTD board voted to waive its prohibition against providing service within the territory of another mass transit district because of "very special circumstances," sad MTD board member Don Uchtmann.
"The needs are pressing and now, and not just (expected) a year from now," he said. "This is a unique situation."
Also Wednesday, the MTD board voted 4-3 for a $6.7 million property tax levy for taxes payable in 2013. The levy is about 3 percent more than the current year. Those voting for the increase were board members Ron Peters, Willard Broom, Margaret Chaplan and Uchtmann. Voting no were Linda Bauer, Brad Diel and Jermaine Raymer.
Bauer said that "this year we can probably do without the increase," while Broom said "we have increasing demand for our service and we can't do that at no cost."
Diel, a recent Democrat candidate for the county board, said he met with a lot of voters recently "and no one commented that that really seemed like a good idea."
But Uchtmann noted that "every dollar of local revenue that we raise to support this system is matched several-fold by a state operating grant that covers the bulk of the cost of the system."
Volk also told the board that the MTD has filed a preliminary application for $6 million in state capital funding to help finance a $15 million project to demolish its old bus garage at 801 E. University Ave., U, and build an addition to its newer facility at 803 E. University Ave. The soonest the project could begin construction "on an aggressive program," he said, would be the spring of 2014.