The City of the Big Shoulders celebrates 10 years of Pace Bus on Shoulder
Buses are an under-sung hero of the transit world, offering a relatively inexpensive, space-efficient, environmentally-friendly way to move large numbers of commuters. But if want people to ride them by choice, we need to make service at least as fast and reliable as driving. Pace’s Bus on Shoulder service has proved to be something of a success in that regard, allowing riders to bypass expressway traffic jams with buses that travel on the shoulder of the highway.
Local officials celebrated the tenth anniversary of the program and the legislation that made it possible with a ceremony earlier this week at the Pace Plainfield Park-n-Ride. Pace chair Rick Kwasneski and director Roger Claar were joined by officials from the Regional Transportation Authority, Will County, Romeoville, the Will County Governmental League, and Will County Center for Economic Development. According to Pace, Chicagoland’s suburban transit agency, this was one of the first bus on shoulder programs in the country, and since the service debuted on the Stevenson Expressway (I-55) in November 2011, transit ridership has grown faster on that corridor than anywhere in the region.
At the event, Pace director and former Bolingbrook mayor Roger Claar said that when Pace launched Bus on Shoulder, success came quickly, and the service was expanded multiple times. He credited Rocky Donahue, Pace’s executive director who is about to retire, for leading the effort to introduce the state bill that legalized the service, which faced skepticism and narrowly passed the Illinois House of Representatives with 61 votes, just over 50 percent of the vote.
After Bus on Shoulder proved successful on the Stevenson, Pace launched similar programs on the Edens Expressway (I-94) and the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90), and the agency is currently working with the Illinois Tollway to implement shoulder service on the Tri-State (I-294).
“We won the national American Public Transportation Association’s Innovation Award, which is the highest award a transportation system can get, for our I-90 service,” said Donahue at the ceremony. “We won the prestigious Lincoln Award, which is the highest honor you get for engineering in the State of Illinois, for this concept.”
“This has been our fastest growing service over the last 10 years,” said Pace chair Rick Kwasneski at the event. “When we originally started this, we were carrying around 300 people. At our peak, pre-COVID, we were carrying well over 3000 people a day.” He went on to explain that the service began with six buses operating on two routes, and has grown to an include of 30 buses running on five routes.
To enable the expansion of Bus on Shoulder service, Pace is building a new garage in Plainfield that is slated to open in spring 2022. “It was just January of 2021 when this was a field,” Claar said. “It’s pretty amazing what these builders can do in a very short amount of time with pre-cast construction.”
Said RTA chair Kirk Dillard, “Over a decade ago, Pace and the RTA recognized there was a need that wasn’t being met, especially in the southwest suburbs. This is an example of what happens when regional leaders of all different stripes get together and decide we are going to make something happen.”
Will County executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant said, “There is no greater freedom than getting to where you want to go. This is what government is about,” she said. “We need to provide our residents service. Getting from here to Chicago or wherever they need to be is critically important.”
To celebrate the anniversary, Pace has a created a Spotify playlist of songs highlighting the joys of traffic-free bus travel. “That felt worthy of an epic celebration, so we decided to rock out in honor of all the VIP riders, drivers, and contributors who chose not to stay in their lane a decade ago and never looked back,” the agency said on the playlist web page. The playlist launched with 59 songs, “one for every minute the average Chicagoan spends in traffic daily.” You can submit additional song suggestions on Facebook or Twitter using the hashtag #RockingTheShoulder for a chance to have it featured on the playlist.
Here’s a sample of the punny song selections.
- “Magic Bus” by The Who
- “Smooth Operator” by Sade
- “Life in the Fast Lane” by The Eagles
- “Drive Slow” by Kanye West
- “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac
- “Always On Time” by Ja Rule and Ashanti