On the way to Little Village

By Darryl Holliday

The Little Village community has been without a direct bus line to downtown for more than 10 years.

The neighborhood’s No. 31 bus route was eliminated in 1997 when Congress slashed nationwide transit operation funds due to budget cuts.

The Little Village Environmental Justice Organization hopes to change that. The organization first proposed a new route in 2008 after speaking with

community members

According to Michael Pitula, public transit organizer for LVEJO, the group has been working toward the idea’s realization

ever since.

According to the Chicago Transit Authority, the route’s experimental phase is in the works and will test whether ridership merits the line’s creation.

The proposed bus line would connect city residents to jobs, commerce and recreation from Little Village’s 26th Street, east to 31st Street Beach and north to Museum Campus.

“We live in one of the largest cities in the United States, and public transportation is a basic service of the city,” Pitula said. “It used to be the case that every quarter mile you’d be able to find a bus stop, and that’s no longer the case in Little Village, Bridgeport and other neighborhoods [that] have seen [their] transit service

systematically eliminated.”

At the community’s request, the CTA applied for and obtained $1.1 million from a federal grant program. The grant, received from the Job Access and Reverse Commute Program, addresses the needs of low-income residents, many without access to alternative transportation, who need public transportation to maintain employment.

According to Pitula, the grant would cover half of the amount of the new service for one year.

Among others, LVEJO is looking toward business and corporate contributors to fill in some of the remaining financial gap.

According to Bernardo Huapaya, marketing director for the Little Village Chamber of Commerce, Little Village is the city’s second source of tax revenue, aside from the Magnificent Mile. Known for its tortillerias, bakeries and Mexican cuisine, the corridor has more than 900 businesses as well as a

dense population.

“There’s an awful lot of business on 26th Street, and one thing we want to point out is transit can spur development in a lot of ways,” Pitula said. “It brings people to places and workers to consumers.”

According to Pitula, reliable transit will reinforce pre-existing businesses in Little Village, as well as stimulate growth in the neighborhood and along the proposed bus route. Nevertheless, he acknowledges the difficulty the city faces in obtaining these funds.

Budget cuts and the recession have hit hard, especially when a lack of transit to jobs and business fuels a cycle of job and

revenue loss.

Sheila Gregory, spokesperson for the CTA, said in an e-mail the agency does not have the resources to add new transportation routes in Chicago. In February, it reduced frequency on 119 bus routes—18 percent of total bus lines—and eliminated nine express routes. More than 1,000 employees have been laid-off this year.

Since 2009, 84 percent of public transit systems nationwide have raised fares or cut services, according to the American Public Transportation Association. Many residents without access to alternative forms of transportation have lost vital bus lines to school, work and stores in the process.

“Our organization’s position is that we need a greater contribution to transit at every level of government from the city, county and suburbs all the way to the state and federal level,” Pitula said. “We feel, generally, that transit is underfunded.”

In the meantime, LVEJO and other Little Village residents are proposing another alternative: A worker-managed, community-run transit cooperative, which they hope could one day provide transportation service to the neighborhood at a lesser cost.