On July 1, Bloomington Transit (BT) buses will resume collecting the standard $1 fare for fixed-route bus rides.
The board also voted to open the downtown transit center to the public starting June 1.
The facility had been closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fare collection had also been suspended over a year ago, early in the pandemic.
The resumption of fare collection means that passengers will need to board buses through the front door where the fareboxes are located. They had been allowed to board through the rear doors, in order to reduce the chance of COVID-19 transmission between drivers and passengers.
At its Tuesday meeting, the five-member BT board did not discuss the possibility of extending fare free boarding past the time when COVID-19 protocols are required, or adopting fare free boarding as a permanent policy
At the board’s April meeting, a handful of speakers weighed in during public commentary time in favor of continuing fare-free boarding, after the pandemic is over.
Bus drivers had been in favor of going back to fare collection. Fare free boarding had resulted in some disruptions to operations from some passengers who were experiencing homelessness, according to drivers.
At the board’s Tuesday meeting, some progress was reported in the effort to hire at least 10 new drivers, to ramp up service levels in the fall, when Indiana University resumes in-person operations.
On Friday (May 21), the university announced it would require vaccinations for all Indiana University students, faculty and staff starting in the fall.
In pre-pandemic times, about 70 percent of BT ridership was typically made up of IU affiliates.
For several years, IU affiliates have boarded buses without paying a fare, under an arrangement where IU pays BT around $1 million to cover the cost of providing the rides.
In pre-pandemic times, fares from non-IU affiliates amounted to around $600,000. BT’s total budget for 2021 is about $14.5 million.
The farebox equipment used by BT to collect fares needs replacement, according to BT general manager Lew May. That will come at a cost of about $1.5 million. For all but $375,000 of that figure, BT has applied to the Federal Transit Authority for a grant to pay for the equipment.
The grant application for fare collection equipment is part of a $10.7-million program of projects that was approved by the board on Tuesday for application to the Federal Transit Authority.
May called replacement of the fare collection equipment a “vitally needed capital project.” The existing fare collection equipment is no longer produced by the manufacturer, he said. In fact, the manufacturer is not even making spare parts for it.
May concluded, “We’re going to need to replace that equipment assuming that we’re going to be collecting fares in the future.” A request for information (RFI) from fare collection vendors has been issued, with responses due in early June.
The numbers for Bloomington Transit bus passengers that were reported on Tuesday show ridership for April just a smidgen less than for March, but basically steady from March to April. Ridership this April was about 2.5 times better than last April, in the middle of the lockdown for the pandemic. Ridership this April was still only 25 percent of the figure for April 2019.
The progress on hiring at least 10 new drivers came from a job fair that was held on May 12 and May 13. A total of 20 applications were received. May told the board on Tuesday that staff thinks nine of those applicants have the potential to be hired.
Another job fair is planned for June. The fact that Indiana is discontinuing some of the pandemic-related unemployment benefits could contribute to a higher number of applicants, May said.
Applicants for May’s job of general manager, from which he is retiring in August after two decades of service, are planned to be interviewed by the board in the coming weeks. BT currently contracts with a third-party management company, RATP Dev, which in turn employs May. Candidates from three management companies are supposed to be interviewed.
Based on discussion at Tuesday’s BT board meeting, all five members intend to interview the candidates at executive sessions, closed to the public, which is one of the exceptions allowed under Indiana’s Open Door Law.
The board will almost certainly hold its June meeting in person at the Grimes Lane headquarter facility, after holding meetings for over a year on the Zoom video conferencing platform.
On Tuesday, the board adopted a policy on electronic meetings under new legislation approved by the General Assembly during this year’s session, so that up to two board members can attend remotely.
May said on Tuesday about the board’s next meeting, “It might be kind of nice to have everybody back in the room together. You know, I’m looking forward to that myself, to be honest.”
Table: Federal Program of Projects
|Four (4) Replacement Battery Electric Buses, Charging Stations and Installation of Charging Stations (section 5339)||$3,200,000||$800,000||$4,000,000|
|Tires/Engine & Transmission Rebuilds & Hybrid Bus Components Replacement (section 5307)||$170,331||$42,583||$212,914|
|Two (2) Replacement BT Access Vans (section 5310)||$149,000||$0||$149,000|
|Replace Fare Collection Equipment (section 5339)||$1,125,000||$375,000||$1,500,000|
|Grimes Lane Operations Facility Maintenance (section 5307)||$40,800||$10,200||$51,000|
|Operating Assistance (section 5307)||$2,388,809||$2,388,809||$4,777,618|
|Total Capital & Operating Projects||$7,073,940||$3,616,592||$10,690,532|