Northwest Business Magazine

Business Milestones: Stateline Mass Transit District is 10 Years Strong

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For the past decade, this regional transportation system has continually grown as it serves those who need a ride. Discover what makes the SMTD a growing asset for state-line area residents.

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Before Stateline Mass Transit District (SMTD) was established in 2008, some residents around the state-line area had a tough time getting to the doctor. They also had a hard time seeing loved ones, and, simple tasks like going to the bank or store were a challenge.

On Feb. 4, SMTD celebrates 10 years of making life easier for residents by providing affordable public transportation to the residents of Rockton, South Beloit and Roscoe, in Illinois.

“We’re going to be around for years to come because the need exists,” says Sharon Hecox, executive director of the SMTD. “If someone has a need to get somewhere, SMTD is here to get them there. I’m a problem solver and transportation is the answer to a problem.”

In the beginning, the service started out with just four buses, and that number has increased to 10, thanks to a continual uptick in ridership.

SMTD offers a shared, curb-to-curb service where buses pick up and drop off at a person’s desired time and destination.

“Right now, although there are more seniors using these services, anyone can ride SMTD, and that’s something I really want people to know,” Hecox says. “People who are unable to drive are finding they can ride SMTD to get around. Veterans are getting to the Rockford [Department of Veteran Affairs] Clinic, children are getting to after-school programs and events, people are getting to church on Sunday and individuals with cognitive difficulties are now able to get to work, thanks to this service.”

Prior to the start of the services, Rockton, Roscoe and South Beloit were independently contracting to provide transportation for seniors and the disabled in their communities. Rockton Senior Transportation, a volunteer-led local transit service, provided rides for senior and disabled residents to visit grocery stores once a month.

“There was definitely a need in our area,” Hecox says. “We had individuals that didn’t have any sort of transportation. If you didn’t have family or friends, or if you couldn’t pay for a taxi, you couldn’t get around to do the things you needed.”

The three municipalities came together in 2007 and determined something needed to be done.

Former U.S. Representative Don Manzullo agreed and was instrumental in getting start-up funding for the service, which is supported by state, federal and local funds, along with bus fares. With Manzullo’s help, four buses were purchased.

“What started as a vision or dream of local leaders transformed into a reality after obtaining the buses and forming the SMTD,” Hecox says.

When the service first started, there was a lot of skepticism on whether SMTD was even needed in the community.

In the first month of service, SMTD only gave 207 rides. Today, Hecox says 1,400 people ride SMTD each month and the numbers continue to grow.

“This is definitely making a difference in the community because people have flexibility, independence and control, which leads to a better quality of life,” Hecox says.

“We only have about 23,000 people in this area, so 1,400 rides for the area is phenomenal,” she adds. “We’re growing, so we must be doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”

Hecox also says there is no competition with the Rockford Mass Transit District. In fact, the RMTD is SMTD’s service provider.

“We have an intergovernmental agreement with RMTD to run our services,” Hecox says. “They house our buses, do our dispatch and perform maintenance services, and they provide drivers. RMTD has been instrumental in bringing SMTD up to speed on what is needed to run a quality transportation service. [Executive Director] Rick McVinnie and his staff have mentored SMTD and taught us everything a newbie needs to do as far as providing transportation and following state and federal law.”

SMTD provides the missing link to RMTD and Beloit Transit. Anyone who uses these services can travel as far north as Janesville, Wis., and even around Rockford, Machesney Park and Belvidere.

“You can get on one of our buses, go to the Target in Machesney Park and head to Belvidere, or do some shopping in Rockford,” Hecox says. “This works because we’re all in the service business. It wouldn’t serve any purpose for us to be competitive with each other.”

The transit company is, however, competing with big box ride-sharing services. One benefit SMTD has over those companies is their prices.

“We offer safe, affordable transportation at a lower rate,” Hecox says. “And, we have the best drivers in the world.”

Scheduling a ride with the SMTD is pretty simple. You have to complete and file a registration form with SMTD by picking up an application at South Beloit, Rockton or Roscoe village halls or township offices. The forms can also be completed online at SMTD.biz. Once you’ve completed a form, you can schedule your ride between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Once you’re registered, you can ride anywhere in the service area or to transfer points on the RMTD or the Beloit Transit System. SMTD provides rides seven days a week.

“You can go all the way to Rockford and back for $3 or $6 depending upon your fare rate,” Hecox says. “With rising gas prices, that is a sweet deal for anyone.”

As a way of giving back to the community, SMTD also runs shuttle services to various local events. For example, the transit service brought people to Rockton’s Old Settler’s Day grounds from the parking lot, and it provided shuttle services for the recent South Beloit Centennial. SMTD also provides shuttle services for other local events and activities.

Hecox is known as the “Lady with the Horn,” and she takes that as a compliment. Her participation in parades and special events is important to get the word out about SMTD.

Local residents seem to appreciate the work SMTD does. Not only do Hecox and her drivers get showered with thank you letters, but residents also show their support at local parades.

“When you go to parades, people don’t clap anymore, if you notice,” Hecox says. “Well, I get claps and my buses are getting applause. People are happy that we’re here and that’s very gratifying.”

What started out as a small company with four buses a decade ago has blossomed into a thriving service that Hecox plans to grow over the next decade.

“You can feel good about what we’re doing because this is not just about bus transportation nor is it a numbers game,” she says. “It’s not about how many people we serve, but about the people we are helping to make a real difference in their lives. I know because I’ve experienced it through the compliments and the stories citizens tell.”

For more information or to register for transportation, visit SMTD.biz or call (815) 624-7788.

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