Budget impasse causing trouble for downstate transit systems

CENTRALIA — With the first downstate mass transit district closing its doors over the weekend, officials with South Central Transit are asking the public to contact lawmakers and urge the release of millions in downstate transit funds.

sctSheila Niederhofer, Executive Director of South Central Transit says SCT’s situation isn’t as immediately dire as that of West Central Transit that stopped services Saturday.

Niederhofer explained that SCT has managed to stay operational through borrowing from its line of credit. But, if state payments are not received in the next month or so they will be forced to begin suspending services starting December 1st.

Buses have already stopped running in Jacksonville and dozens of others transit districts say they may close as well if they don’t receive more state money soon.

Niederhofer says public transit could end in Mt. Vernon and Centralia as part of service cuts, but the board is working on a plan that would at least allow medical transportation services to continue in the six counties in which it operates, including Clinton, Jefferson, and Marion.

Illinois Public Transit Association Chairman Andrew Johnson said downstate mass transit districts rely on state government for two-thirds of their operating budgets, which puts them at the mercy of state government.

Johnson said downstate bus systems don’t have enough passengers and can’t charge high-enough fares to cover their costs.

According to Niederhofer, in the six counties in which SCT operates, they provide rides to an average of 2,000 people per day.

The state owes 53 downstate mass transit districts about $150 million. Niederhofer says SCT is owed $2.5 million and hasn’t received any payments since July 1, the beginning of their 2017 fiscal year.

The Illinois Comptroller’s office has said October and November are very lean months for tax collections. The comptroller’s office also said Illinois has a nearly $7 billion backlog of other unpaid bills.