A City Committee is looking at the feasibility of bus service down Dodge Avenue on Sundays. Photo by Bob Seidenberg

Members of a City Committee are exploring the feasibility of adding Sunday bus service along the Dodge Avenue corridor, weighing different cost estimates for providing the service.

At the Jan. 22 Transportation and Parking Committee meeting, Jessica Hyink, the City’s Transportation & Mobility Coordinator, provided Committee members with cost estimates for service on Dodge, a main north-south route in the City.

 Back in September, Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, referred the issue for study, noting the difficulties the City’s disabled and growing aging-in-place population face in getting around on Sundays when public transportation is not available.

With no budget for the program currently, Ms. Hyink admitted at the Committee meeting that she had “to think a bit outside the box on the issue,” seeking providers, “which is why I’ve also contacted non-public transit providers that do sometimes partner with communities and other organizations to provide this service.”

Staff requested cost estimates from Pace, Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Via and Lyft for to provide Sunday public transportation on the Dodge Avenue, which is regarded a “primary” transportation corridor.

Each provider was requested to estimate costs for comparable service to the CTA’s Route 93 operation hours on Saturday in Evanston, Ms. Hyink said, referring to the CTA line that currently runs on Dodge from Monday through Saturday.

Pace declined to provide a cost estimate, deferring to the CTA as the operator of the corridor, she said.

The CTA’s Service Planning Department estimated a cost of $200,000. “This cost estimate requires further approval by CTA leadership,” Ms. Hyink added.

 Lyft has yet to provide an estimate, she said. Via, another ride-share program, estimated costs between $91,800 and $105,300.00, she said.

“These cost estimates are subject to change based on a fully developed request for service, if the City should choose to allocate funding for Sunday transportation service on Dodge Avenue,” Ms. Hyink said.

In addition, “in order to expand public transportation options to west Evanston [beyond the current route], the City would have contribute funding, as the CTA is unable to expand service to this area on Sundays without a financial contribution,” Ms. Hyink pointed out.  “There are no grant funds for the City to provide this service, as state and federal transportation grant funding for the region is allocated to the Regional Transportation Authority [RTA], which then approves funding to the CTA, Metra and Pace and Pace Paratransit. The RTA encourages municipalities to coordinate service with these providers.”

Ms. Hyink and committee members discussed the pros and cons of the proposals and the need to get more details to evaluate the numbers.

“Via is the new kid in town,” Ms. Hyink told Committee members, providing additional summary. The company does not provide door-to-door service in the manner of Lyft or Uber, she said.

Rather, “they provide corner-to-corner service, and most of their rides are multi-user rides.”

With that service, “you’re not going directly to your destination; you’re getting very close to your destination” and walking the remaining way, she told Committee members.

With the CTA, while the estimated cost to provide the service is higher, the price is from “an established company and likely would not fluctuate each year,” Ms. Hyink observed.

Further, “you get the rides into Chicago [the 93 line runs all the way to Lawrence Avenue], “and also you get the constituency,” Ms. Hyink said. By “constituency she was referring to the current Monday-Saturday ridership on the line.

In discussion, Committee member Ben Kaplan noted that Via is currently providing service on the Northwestern University campus and suggested the City might explore pooling costs with the University to lower costs for both.

Mr. Kaplan, also a member of the City’s Environment Board, noted that the Via response did not guarantee electric cars — one of the energy-saving measures included in the City’s transportation goals for 2025 — a concern Ms. Hyink had also noted, referring to the City’s Action and Resilience Plan in her memo.

“So I think we have to think long-term if this is going to be a Sunday transportation solution,” he said.

Alejandro Anon, another member, expressed preference, that “if we’re trying to put in a bus line,” the City should strive for a plan “that is going to consistent.”

In addition, “in my mind [currently] we don’t have the budget,” for the service, he said. In that case, officials might first consider generating revenue to support the program, he said, suggesting $200,000 as an initial figure.

 Ald. Fleming said she referred the issue to the Transportation and Parking Committee after fielding calls from residents, some who use wheelchairs, who “were having difficulty getting around.”

Some cannot make it to the train stations, she said.

“And people work on Sundays,” she noted.

Officials should consider doing some kind of survey, giving them a better idea of how many would use Sunday bus service if it were available, suggested Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, a long-time member of the Committee.

Ald. Fleming backed that idea, requesting that the item remain in committee for further discussion. In the meantime, officials should gather more information about Sunday ridership as well as current Saturday use, “so that we can make a better decision moving forward,” she said.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.