RANTOUL — For some prospective Rantoul workers, the industrial park has been out of reach. Those without transportation face a difficult time getting to and from work.

Help appears to be on the way.

Creation of a local government-subsidized bus service will hopefully ease some of that burden.

The first meeting to field public concerns and comments on the bus service proposal is scheduled for this evening (Wednesday, March 23) at the municipal building, 333 S. Tanner St.

The meeting, scheduled from 5-7 p.m. in the village board room, will be an open house format. No formal presentation will be made. Information will be available. Personnel from the village, Champaign County Regional Planning Commission and the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District will be present.

Rantoul Co-Economic Development Director Rebecca Motley said the bus service won’t be just for employees traveling to and from work. It will be open to all members of the public with pick-up and drop-off points at various areas of town.

The transportation issue was first addressed in mid-2015 during a task force meeting between village officials and some representatives of companies in the industrial park.

"What came out of that was that a number of people said, ‘It’s a real challenge for some of our people to get to work without reliable transportation,’" Motley said.  

Discussions began with the Champaign County Area Rural Transit System, which is operated by the C-U Mass Transit District. The district receives federal funding through the Regional Planning Commission.

C-CART already serves Rantoul, and Rantoul is its largest volume community. However, riders must call at least 48 hours in advance of needing a ride to take them on stops ranging from the doctor to the grocery store and locations in Champaign-Urbana.

"The industrial park is kind of isolated out there, and there’s not a good way to get out there unless you drive," Motley said.

The fixed route will go through the industrial park to the center of town as well as the east side of town and back.

Officials have been studying data to determine need and level of interest.

"We got a lot of data from employers and workers about where people live, and (asked), ‘Would you ride the bus or not?’" Motley said.

C-Cart is required to hold a couple of public meetings annually to satisfy its federal grant funding regulations. Riders are asked why they are using the service and informed of any forthcoming changes.

The two-year bus service plan would cost $360,000, with half of the money coming from federal transportation dollars and the remainder from the village of Rantoul — $90,000 a year. Motley said one source of local funding presumably would be motor fuel tax money.

Rider fees of $2 one way and private-sector funding from some of the companies at the industrial park and elsewhere on the route would offset some of the cost. Among the stops would be Wal-Mart and County Market. The route will also include downtown.

Motley said village officials haven’t spoken with employers in detail. That will happen at a meeting set for April 6.

She said of the March 23 meeting: "I’d like people to come if they have questions or comments. There will be more public meetings before everything is finalized."

Motley said as the system is used, there is some flexibility of where the stops will be as well as maybe some route expansion.

A mid-August target date has been set for route start-up.

Among the items still to be decided are where people can buy multi-ride passes. It has yet to be determined if there will be a discount for buying in bulk.

"It’s really public transportation for everybody," Motley said.

"I just feel it’s a really good step for Rantoul to take in terms of allowing its citizens to have equal access to employment and services."

Establishment of the bus service stems in part from the goal to increase the village’s desirability to employers and workers.

Motley said the focus is consistent with the Rantoul Tomorrow initiative (designed to enhance life in Rantoul) community feedback as well as feedback from large employers received during the past year.