Underwood in Plainfield to present Pace with funding for electric express bus

Pace Executive Director Melinda Metzger, center left, gives State Representative Lauren Underwood a tour at Pace’s bus depot on Monday July 1, 2024 in Plainfield.

Plainfield — The Pace bus service received a significant present from U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood on July 1 as it was marking its 40th anniversary: a check to buy a new electric coach bus that will be used in its Interstate 55 service from Plainfield to downtown Chicago.

Underwood, D-Naperville, presented the oversized $826,779 check to Pace’s Executive Director Melinda Metzger and Chairman Rick Kwasneski at a reception at the Plainfield Pace Depot at 14539 S Depot Drive.

The facility, which opened last year, will be home to the new electric vehicle once Pace receives its order, likely later this year or in 2025.

Funding for the new bus was secured by Underwood through congressional Community Project Funding – part of $12.6 million the 14th District will receive.

“This is a big priority in our community,” Underwood said. “There are a number of projects in Plainfield we’ve been working with to improve infrastructure. This route is popular with people in the area and to help Pace electrify their fleet is very exciting.”

State Representative Lauren Underwood presents Pace Executive Director Melinda Metzger and Pace Chairman Rick Kwasneski a check for $826,779 for Pace’s expansion of electric buses at Pace’s bus depot on Monday July 1, 2024 in Plainfield.

Underwood also noted that the new bus route will eventually utilize the eastward expansion in Plainfield of 143rd Street, something officials say will shorten the travel time on the route once the road work is complete. Underwood was present for the project’s groundbreaking last week.

“This is a service people rely on, which allows them to live here and get around safely and quickly,” Underwood said. “I’m glad to see this investment in it and projects being completed that will simplify it even more.”

Kwasneski said that when Pace was first given permission to use the shoulder during rush hour on the state’s expressways in 2011, ridership increased by 600% over seven years.

“Anything we can do to make the trip faster, the better,” he said. “The 143rd Street extension will shorten the trip even more.”

The suburban bus service unveiled its first electric bus in January. The vehicle services a south suburban route between the red line station at 95th Street and the Dan Ryan expressway in Chicago and Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills.

The service has 22 more of these buses on order, and the new bus purchased by Underwood’s funding will be added to that.

Buses sit in Pace’s maintenance garage for routine maintenance at Pace’s bus depot on Monday July 1, 2024 in Plainfield.

The newly announced bus will be different than the others the service is awaiting because it will be a coach-style bus, intended for use on the I-55 express commuter service instead of the smaller, fixed-route buses.

Metzger said that the coach-style buses are larger and include features like luggage racks for passengers’ briefcases and computer bags and air conditioning.

When the all-electric addition to the fleet arrives, it will be used between the Plainfield Depot and downtown Chicago, using the shoulder of the expressway to help commuters avoid traffic on a route Kwasneski said carries between 5,000 and 6,000 daily riders.

The Plainfield garage is equipped to handle two electric buses, and the service is in the process of electrifying its existing garages, starting with the depot in Waukegan, Metzger said.

She said the existing bus is providing them with a learning curve of what the system’s needs will be as it gets more electrified.

The bus reportedly gets about eight hours of service from a single charge, although there is some variation depending on the weather and charges overnight.

The gas buses run for about 16 hours per day and drivers switch off vehicles between shifts. Metzger did note, though, that battery technology is regularly being modified and could last longer.

The addition of new electric buses is coming at a good time for the service. Metzger noted that ridership numbers have been steadily increasing and are close to pre-pandemic levels most weekdays as more workers return to regular office hours.

“At least on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, we’re seeing rider numbers back up to where they were before COVID,” Metzger said. “So, we’re going to be adding 28 trips back into the schedule across the system, including more expresses to alleviate overcrowding.”