Bloomington public buses continue to roll at 21-percent ridership under COVID-19 conditions, board OKs deal with Trinitas development

At its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, the board of Bloomington Transit handled routine business, like receiving a financial report from its controller.

The five-member group also handled another item that has become routine business for the board: an extension of its COVID-19 protocols for another month—through Dec. 15.

The board also approved a deal with Trinitas Ventures, the developer of a roughly 1,000-bedroom project oriented in large part towards students, to provide transit service to the West 17th and Arlington Road area on the west side of town.

The deal with Trinitas was a requirement for the city council’s approval of the zoning for the project. The first year of service will cost $359,000. Construction on that project is expected to start as soon as the real estate deal closes, which is early December, based on remarks from Jeff Kanable of Trinitas, made to the BT board at Tuesday’s meeting.

The board also approved its Federal Transit Administration safety plan on just a 3–2 vote, with dissent from Alex Cartwright and James McLary. The plan did not appear to be controversial, but Cartwright and McLary wanted better clarity about how the definition of “safety event” that’s used by the feds squares up with BT’s statistics.

In another piece of business handled on Tuesday, the BT board approved an extension with the company that sells advertising on its bus wraps. BT splits the revenue 50-50 with Mesmerize, formerly Clean Zone Marketing. That stands at about $175,000 annually, according to BT general manager Lew May at the meeting. That’s about a six-fold increase since 2015, when BT started doing business with Mesmerize, he said.

The extension of COVID-19 protocols for BT means continued fare-free boarding for all passengers and a closure of the indoor passenger waiting area of the downtown transit center. The Grimes Lanes administration building will also remain closed to the public. Designated administrative management and employees will continue to work remotely.

Indiana governor Eric Holcomb’s current order requires anyone using public transportation to wear a face covering.  BT is distributing free masks to riders who don’t have one.

BT has also installed plexiglass barriers to create a kind of compartment for drivers away from the public.

Ridership, according to Zac Huneck, BT’s planning and special projects manager, has plateaued. The 89,258 passengers in October is just a smidgen more than the 88,858 who rode BT buses in September. That’s about 21-percent of the passengers who would normally be riding BT fixed route buses this time of year.

About 70 percent of ridership on BT buses is normally made up of Indiana University affiliates—students, staff, and faculty. Even though the university is in session, many students attend classes remotely, which means reduced travel needs.

Winter break, which starts next week, comes earlier this year and will last longer, through early February. That means ridership will likely drop to the kind of levels seen in April in May, around 30-40,000 riders a month.

Chandler Glen Service Agreement

Jeff Kanable, with Trinitas Ventures, told the BT board that the residential project on the west side of town, planned for up to 1,000 bedrooms, doesn’t have an official name, but they call it the Chandler Glen project or the West 17th Street project.

The bedroom count comes from 825 bedrooms in 334 apartments, plus houses to be built on 45 single-family lots that were donated to the city as part of the deal. The bedroom count for those 45 lots could increase, based on Kanable’s remarks to the board: “I understand from the city that they may not end up being single-family. They might be duplex units on those 45 lots.”

Kanable said the project will take about 21 months to complete. Based on an early December construction start, Trinitas is expecting to open around August of 2022, he said.

The price tag of $359,000 for the first year’s worth of bus service out to the west side of town is based on 360 days a year, on weekdays, Saturdays and Sundays, amounting to roughly 4,800 hours annually. That gets multiplied by BT’s hourly operating cost of $75.32, according to BT general manager Lew May.

The BT bus service that will be funded by the deal will be available to the general public, not just residents of the Trinitas development. Residents of the Trinitas development would be able to board buses without paying a fare.

May described the circulator’s route configuration as leaving the West 17th Street area by coming down Arlington to West 17th Street, and then down College Avenue to 7th Street, to Woodlawn Avenue to 10th Street, to Fee Lane and then back to 17th Street.