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Local

NIU authorizes transit plan agreement with city

Early estimates project $1 million in annual savings for university

A Huskie Bus drives down Greenbrier Road in September.
A Huskie Bus drives down Greenbrier Road in September.

DeKALB – An intergovernmental agreement that will allow Northern Illinois University to provide appropriate funding, up to $3 million a year, to fully leverage grant funding available to the city of DeKalb for an integrated transit system was approved Thursday.

In exchange for the university’s contribution, the city will provide specified bus services of interest to NIU. These features, modeled after other college communities, will include fare-free rides for students and university faculty and staff, continued university branding opportunities with the buses, and multiyear financial planning to ensure sustainable operations.

John Heckman, NIU associate vice president of facilities management and campus services, said NIU typically has spent about $4 million annually for the Huskie Line.

But with an integrated transit plan with the Voluntary Action Center’s TransVAC lines in place, early estimates suggest the university could save $1 million a year in bus operations.

“What the actual amount [of savings] will be is something I’ll have to work out,” Heckman said.

One concern NIU trustees had during Thursday’s board meeting was whether NIU’s student association still will have an active role in transit discussions.

Heckman said because students are charged for bus services, the student association always has had an active role in overseeing bus operations and will continue to do so.

“They will still have an active role as a prime university representative with the city to make sure the bus services that are expected will be delivered,” Heckman said. “This is going to be a good mechanism for making sure we can meet their demands. We definitely don’t want to leave students in the lurch without necessary bus services to get them to and from campus.”

The execution of this agreement is anticipated to be completed by August to align with the city’s solicitation process for a new mass transit operations contract, which is set to begin in January 2019.

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