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Peoria Transit Gets Along 'OK' in Pandemic Year

CityLink, the Peoria-area transit system, faced a variety of challenges due to the coronavirus in 2020, but fared better than systems in many larger cities, said General Manager Doug Roelfs.

“For mass transit (nationally), it was a bleak year. For the Greater Peoria Mass Transit District, we got along okay,” he said.In an effort to safeguard passengers and employees, CityLink upped efforts to sanitize buses while urging social distancing be practiced by passengers. The system has mandated the use of masks by passengers since April. Ridership was down 20 percent over the previous year, but CityLink was able to maintain regular service with few interruptions, said Roelfs, Despite a dedicated effort by CityLink employees during the pandemic, riders that usually rely on mass transit just weren't there, he said. 

“Schools never really got going and ICC (Illinois Central College) never got up and running. Everything was virtual. You had a lot of people working from home and the sheltered workshops aren’t back to full staff, either. All of those factor into our ridership,” he said.

The economic slowdown caused by the pandemic has resulted in a drastic reduction in revenue for mass transit, said Roelfs.

“The emergency relief package just passed should help some of the larger systems,” he said, referring to the recently-approved federal aid bill expected to provide $14 billion for mass transit agencies.

Transit will benefit when some measure of economic stability can be restored, said Roelfs. “It will be a matter of how fast the economy rebounds. A lot of the transit agencies, along with ourselves, depend on sales tax revenue, especially the gas tax here in Illinois. If people stay home and don’t go anywhere, that cuts into the profits on that."

“The state has already told us to look for a 10 to 20 percent cut in revenue for next year,” said Roelfs.

Despite a reduction in state funding, the CityLink GM is optimistic about 2021. “I think Peoria and areas of the Midwest are kind of insulated sometimes from the big ups and downs. I see us hanging in there and starting to rise steadily again,” he said.

Roelfs hopes to enact changes for CityLink in the new year with route adjustments that will reduce duplication of service and offer more timely service. “We’re looking to implement GPS on the buses providing real-time data for people to see where their bus is at,” he said.

“It’s going to be an exciting year for us. Along with route changes and new technology, we’re going to have three new electric buses probably in June,” said Roelfs, expressing appreciation for the community’s recent response to CityLink’s annual Stuffabus food drive.

“We had a goal of raising $10,000 for the Friendship House food pantry and raised $17,000,” he said..

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