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Local Editorials

OUR VIEW: NCAT is spreading its wings

For a handful of years, those needing affordable transportation around the county have been able to rely on the ever-growing North Central Area Transit, or NCAT.

Whether it’s to a class, a job or just a social outing, the public transportation service has filled a need in the area, where Uber and Lyft services are newer and limited.

NCAT provides public transportation throughout La Salle County from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

And recently, NCAT officials were excited to announce more plans on the horizon, including a test run of Saturday service and twice-monthly trips to Peoria.

NCAT will provide transportation from La Salle County to Peoria on the second and fourth Wednesdays each month starting in July. Many people in the area travel to Peoria for medical services and shopping outings, so this appears to be a good fit.

This route is open to the public, but seating is limited and offered on a first come, first served basis. Passengers must call at least three days before the requested travel date to reserve a seat.

And the price is reasonable for those on a budget. One-way fare is $15 and round-trip fare is $30.

It wasn’t difficult to find riders who depend on the service. In a May Times article, we spoke with Austin “Augie” Helffrich, who, without North Central Area Transit (NCAT), would be left without transportation.

Helffrich was born with cerebral palsy and can’t drive himself throughout the city. He estimates he uses the services about four to five times a week and is excited to learn their services continue to grow.

“I love it. It’s a beautiful service,” he said.

Alyssa King, who has used the service in the past to go to classes at Ottawa’s Illinois Valley Community College campus, now uses it to get to her job in Oglesby.

King said she was grateful to keep her focus on her classwork and relied on NCAT for the transportation. Now, she continues to use it to get to work as the low-cost fares allow her to save up cash.

“It’s really helpful to have NCAT, and they allow you to go anywhere in the county,” King said.

Executive Director Kim Zimmerman noted expansion is the current priority for the city-supported bus service, which can be seen in its new, larger space at 1784 Chessie Lane, Ottawa.

She added there’s potential for a grant to do an in-depth study in the area to determine if there are additional needs not being met by the current NCAT services. If there’s enough interest from riders, their hours of operation could increase.

The new building also has room to grow with additional spaces for more staffers as well as a future parking lot coming this fall to keep NCAT buses on site and, if funding can be identified, using the small garage as a maintenance bay.

Although the service has been in place for years, many residents still may not have heard of NCAT or don’t understand it’s a public service. But Zimmerman has plans to continue spreading awareness.

“I really want to be a resource. I don’t think it’s within our capacity to operate as an Uber or a Lyft, but I do want people to think about us more when they need transportation,” Zimmerman said.

For more information, visit ridencat.com or fb.com/northcentralareatransit.

To schedule a ride, call 833-433-6228.

And spread the word.

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