McDONOUGH COUNTY — Now that the county transit authority has cleared two significant hurdles – state budget funding and a temporary provider for Demand Response – it's approaching a couple more.
With the academic year fast approaching, the McDonough County Public Transportation Authority is experiencing a shortage of qualified drivers. Currently, about eight drivers are needed to staff the routes.
Go West coordinator Peter Hannen said at the Friday morning meeting that driver training is in process, but timing issues may be holding things up. “It takes 14 days from the time they get their permit to get them on and actually pass at the earliest. That's the state rule. When they get their permit, there's a 14-day window that we can't cross,” he said.
In response to a clarifying question from Mayor Mike Inman, Hannen confirmed the permit was a CDL with an endorsement for passengers.
“We're gearing up to figure out how we're going to make it through the first week,” Hannen said.
He said there are plenty of applicants for the open positions, and that the reason for the holdup was because Durham's training program was “rather sophisticated” and “fairly involved.”
“Bringing that fully to bear is part of the complexity of this issue,” he said.

Demand Response Update
Durham has begun a hiring process for six drivers who were working as providers for Demand Response until Bridgeway's provider contract ended in June. Transit Director Nathan Cobb said that if they pass muster, they should be ready a week from Monday.
“We're still waiting on IDOT's (Illinois Department of Transportation) approval,” he said, “I've inquired three or four times with them, and have not yet gotten a response from them.” Staff that were supposed to sign off on it were out of the office all this week, he said. He said he was hoping the transition could be made on or after Aug. 21.
They will also be seeking an additional bus driver for Demand Response. “We're going to be looking for another bus driver probably,” he said. “It depends on what Bridgeway (needs). They've inquired with us in the last week or two about taking some trips back over that they've been doing for the last month. Starting Monday, we're going to try to do their Bushnell route and try to get some of that match revenue coming back in for that.” That particular route's fare has increased by 50 cents per ride, he said. “Their plans are to have us do another route that goes to Littleton. They're probably going to do their own in-town route... All-in-all, to do all their routes was going to be about $35,000 a year.”
Of the seven drivers being hired, the transit authority hopes to dedicate two to service the Bridgeway clients, he said.
Cobb said they could use another one-two drivers to do more trips for seniors, but said that he didn't think funding would be enough to allow them to hire anymore this year.
He said the transit authority should be able to solicit bids for a permanent provider contract in January or February for a contract beginning July 1, 2018.

Bus shelters, pads
Capital projects are becoming a possibility again now that the state has a signed budget. In 2015, the transit authority had requested funding to build 12 bus stop shelters and concrete pads. Funding of about $180,000 was approved by the state, locations were chosen, and an engineer had bid on the project. MCPT had also received approval for nine new buses to be made to replace aging members of its fleet, and a company began the process of manufacturing the new buses.
The money for the shelter project never came in, however, and only three new buses were added to its fleet. Capital funding for that and other capital projects dried up during the two-year budget crisis, and the project was put on hold indefinitely.
With the return of the downstate funds, MCPT can now proceed with the project. However, they will have to re-evaluate the locations, and the project will also have to be bid out again, at an additional cost of about $2,000, Cobb said.
When Inman asked for a timeline on the project, he said he hoped to have the project re-evaluated in time to have it bid out later this year, in time to break ground in spring next year.
“The other part of that is the city still has about $2 million for the purchase of some buses. That might be a little more difficult one, and a longer wait. The six that they had made for us, someone else bought them (and) that company no longer makes those,” he said. “...Those have worked pretty well for us, being a lot lighter and shorter – 30-foot, light. They worked pretty well on the municipal side. A lot of that has to do with ADA accessibility on them, because there's a lot of wheelchairs on the city's routes, seems to be: a lot of wheelchair users. Those have worked really well (for wheelchair users), so I was kind of hoping we would have at least enough of those to cover all the city routes.”

Reach Michelle Langhout by email at or follow her on Facebook.