Ridership at 20 percent of normal, Bloomington buses continue fare free into 2021

At its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, the Bloomington Transit (BT) board voted to continue its COVID-19 measures, through mid-January, when the group next convenes.

Those steps include fare-free boarding through the rear doors, a closure of the downtown transit center to the public, and remote working for administrative personnel.

According to the meeting information packet, BT has distributed over 30,000 masks to riders since the pandemic hit. Compliance is good, but some riders still refuse to wear a mask, according to the packet.

Ridership in November dipped slightly compared to October (from about 89,000 to 68,000 rides), but the numbers generally trend down between those two months. Ridership during the last few months of the pandemic is only about 20 percent of the levels seen in previous years for the same period.

The board heard from general manager Lew May that state funding for BT through the state’s Public Mass Transportation Fund (PMTF) will be down by about 13 percent, from $2.55 million for 2020 to $2.21 million in 2021.

The drop in PMTF funding is down 13 percent for all transit systems in the state, according to May, which is an impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of its Tuesday business, the board also approved a $230,000 contract with Urban Transportation Associates for automatic passenger counting technology. It was not the lowest bid, but the lower bidders were not certified for National Transit Database (NTD) reporting.

Automatic passenger counting allows a more precise analysis of where along a route passengers are boarding buses as well as where they’re getting off, which is helpful in planning service.

Another Tuesday meeting agenda item that involved low bids was the replacement of the Grimes Lane facility roof. The apparent low bidder for the project did not submit any of the federal certifications, executed debarment and suspension or a state requirement for an E-Verify affidavit, according to May. Legal counsel is preparing an opinion on rejecting the low bid, May said.

Based on board member discussion, the low bid was an outlier, not even in the same ballpark as the other bids. That item was continued to the board’s January Meeting.

Tuesday was newly appointed board member Doug Horn’s first meeting. Monroe County Republican Party chair William Ellis appointed Horn when the Bloomington city council failed to make an appointment within 90 days of the expiration of Alex Cartwright’s term.

In Horn’s introductory remarks, he echoed board chair Nancy Obermeyer’s thanks for Cartwright’s 15 years of service on the BT board.

Horn mentioned that he’s a friend and client of BT board member Marilyn Hartman—she’s an attorney. He said he’s a partner in Stasny & Horn, which owns a small group of residential rental property, near Indiana University. They’ve been in business almost 40 years, he said.

Horn said he was a member of the Monroe County Apartment Association and had served in the past as a Monroe County plan commissioner. He has participated in the development of various master plans for the city of Bloomington over the years, Horn said, and is familiar with the city’s planning and transportation staff.

Horn said he was born in Bloomington, and remembers when public bus service first started in Bloomington, Horn said: “I do remember when the small Mercedes-Benz buses first began to roll on the streets of Bloomington. It was kind of cool as a high school student to hop on one of those things and roll around town.”