In 1999, the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC) conducted a three-county transit needs analysis to better program limited federal resources.
Based on the recommendations from that analysis, the Indiana cities of East Chicago and Hammond began planning to combine their municipal services. Consolidation required that Hammond shift from contracted services with leased equipment to purchasing an eight-bus fleet. The deadline was set by the expiration of the city’s existing service contract.
Programming the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) funds for the proper time frame required the cooperation of the region’s other fixed-route provider, the commuter rail provider and the five not-for-profit demand-response providers. All of them had to agree to delay capital projects of their own in order to free up enough federal funds to cover the purchase of the eight buses.
All FTA-funded capital procurements for both cities are handled by NIRPC, the designated recipient of FTA Section 5307 funds and the Metropolitan Planning Organization for northwest Indiana. To ensure the timely delivery of the new buses, NIRPC, working with Optima Bus Corp., was able to obtain options from an order placed by the Regional Transit Authority of Corpus Christi in Texas.
Also assisting in the process was the Gary Public Transportation Corp. (GPTC) in Indiana, which provided storage space for the first four new buses at its maintenance facility in Gary until the buses could be put into service. GPTC also provided space for training on the new Opus buses in exchange for including some of its own employees in the training. (GPTC also has Opus buses in its fleet.)