LOTS hosts public meetings on potential plans for bus route, microtransit in Rochelle

Potential route includes Walmart, downtown, RCH, The REC, food pantry, Willis Avenue, Rochelle Foods


ROCHELLE — On Thursday, the Lee-Ogle Transportation System hosted two public meetings in Rochelle concerning its plans for public transit in Rochelle, including a potential deviated fixed bus route and a microtransit service alternative.

Residents and community stakeholders were invited to attend the meeting. The first meeting Thursday was attended by representatives from LOTS, the Hub City Senior Center, the City of Rochelle, and the Rochelle Christian Food Pantry. LOTS has been conducting a study since early this year on the feasibility of fixed-route bus services in Rochelle and Dixon. The meetings and the study are being carried out by public transportation consultants RLS & Associates.

LOTS and RLS & Associates aim to evaluate options for fixed-route bus service to enhance access to workplaces, medical care, education, shopping, recreation, and more for residents in Rochelle. The project team is eager to hear from a diverse range of stakeholders, including senior citizens, individuals with disabilities, transit riders and non-riders, students, and anyone who values transportation as a vital community resource. 

RLS & Associates Consultant Christy Campoll and Associate Zach Kincade discussed a preliminary route that's been put together on Thursday. The route would begin in the downtown area near the city's parking lots off North Main Street and would proceed to the areas of Rochelle Community Hospital, Walmart, The REC Center, the Rochelle Christian Food Pantry, Willis Avenue near new apartment developments, to Rochelle Foods, and back to its start. The route would take around 45 minutes to an hour. The plans are not finalized. The eight-month study will be wrapped up in August and a final report will be made.

"This would be like a standard city bus route where the bus arrives at each stop every hour and provides access to destinations around the city," Campoll said. "We do think a route is feasible. We're bringing plans to the community so LOTS can implement the service and get ready to launch it and start work in the community about the availability of the service."

LOTS currently provides an advanced reservation-based, shared-ride public transportation system in Lee and Ogle counties, operating Monday-Friday 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The in-town fare is $2 ($1 for seniors, veterans and those with disabilities). The out-of-town fee is capped at $10 or $5 for the discounted categories. That service would remain and the fixed route would be in addition to it.

"That service is more for rural areas where there's not a whole lot of population," Campoll said. "With a fixed-route bus, we're able to do something that's more convenient and cost effective in a denser area. People can just walk to a bus stop rather than calling for a ride. We think this would be a good option for residents of the city and we're excited to move forward."

Also discussed Thursday was the idea of an additional microtransit shuttle bus service to go to different employers in the city's industrial park area. That would be a future expansion to the route and a shuttle bus would take riders from a nearby stop on the main route to employers.

An expanded microtransit alternative to the fixed bus route is also under consideration for the future that would make stops in all of Rochelle available, with named locations including downtown, RCH, Walmart, the industrial park, the airport, MightyVine, and the railroad park. 

Campoll said the microtransit alternative would be more expensive to operate than a fixed bus route and could involve three vehicles operating in a similar manner to Uber. That concept would be a larger undertaking and expansion of a bus route concept.

For the fixed bus route, LOTS would work with the city to install bus stop signs, Campoll said. Aspects of the work that remain under consideration at this point include the size of buses, funding from the Department of Transportation, the cost to ride, and hours.

Potential hours mentioned by Campoll Thursday included from 8 a.m to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday, and possible service on Saturdays.

The next steps in the process will be to get more community input on routes and schedules, budgeting, and making a five-year plan. 

Campoll and Kincade detailed statistics found from the community survey that received over 200 responses Thursday. 61 percent of respondents said they drive themselves, 26 percent said a friend or family member drives them, 19 percent said they use LOTS, six percent said they walk or use a wheelchair, three percent said they use a service for seniors or people with disabilities, two percent use a bike, and two percent responded other.

Thirty eight percent of Rochelle resident respondents said they'd use a bus route regularly, 36 percent said they'd use it occasionally, and 18 percent said they know someone who would use it.

Eighty three percent of Rochelle resident respondents said they'd use a bus route for shopping/errands, 68 percent said they'd use it for medical appointments, 65 percent said they'd use it for work, 25 percent said they'd use it for youth/after school activities, 22 percent said they'd use it for K-12 school, 18 percent said they'd use it for college/post-secondary education, 16 percent said they'd use it for childcare and 11 percent said other.

For distance they'd be willing to walk or travel in a wheelchair to a bus stop, 23 percent of Rochelle residents said one block, 50 percent said two or three blocks, 15 percent said a quarter of a mile, five percent said a half mile, one percent said a quarter of a mile, and six percent said one mile.