Alphonso Dillard rides a Citilink bus every day. He rides the bus to the library. He rides it to shop at Time Corners and to see his doctor in Fort Wayne's far north side.
During the winter, Dillard, who is on disability, would brave the elements to wait for his connecting ride at Citilink's open-air Superior Street transfer station, which lacks basic comforts such as heating, air conditioning and bathrooms.
“In the winter, at the old transfer station, you would have stand out in the cold,” Dillard said. “It was a lot of hassle.”
But Citilink riders will face fewer hassles after 8:15 a.m. Saturday, when the bus service's new central station officially opens at Baker and Calhoun streets.
Fort Wayne public and business officials joined Citilink on Friday to dedicate the new $4.4 million station, which features restrooms, an indoor waiting area and covered bus bays to shield riders from wind, rain and snow.
The project has been in the works since 2002, but efforts to build a full-service station downtown go back to at least the mid-'90s, Citilink officials said.
“As you know, this day has been a long time coming,” Citilink General Manager Ken Housden told the crowd gathered for the station's dedication.
Housden said the bigger station will keep Citilink lines running smoothly by funneling buses through at a quicker pace – a key advantage as the service tries to increase its ridership.
The new station also will be safer, with 37 security cameras, and will be able to accommodate bigger buses if Citilink decides to use different models in the future, Housden said.
Mayor Tom Henry pointed to the station's downtown-friendly landscaping and its location next door to the old Baker Street Station – where downtown advocates hope to bring back passenger rail – as other advantages.
For those who ride Citilink buses a combined total of more than 2 million times each year, the new station will simply make their trips safer and more comfortable, Dillard said.
“It's going to mean a lot of security – a lot of, more or less, comfort,” he said. “This is a lot classier.”