Bloomington northwest side bus route revised after riders react, driver shortage still impacting ridership

Some planned changes to Bloomington Transit’s Route 2 West have now been put in reverse.

The loop that defines much of the route had been proposed to change from clockwise to counterclockwise.

But the most recent version, which was presented to the Bloomington Transit (BT) board as its Tuesday meeting, was clockwise.

Also included in the most recent version of Route 2 West, presented by planning and special projects manager Zac Hunec, was the restoration of closer service to Bloomington Housing Authority’s Crestmont Community.

This most recent iteration will be circulated to the public again before the board settles on a final version, which is supposed to start service in January 2022.

At its Tuesday meeting, the BT board also got an update on the new Route 10 that will provide service to IU Health’s new hospital on the SR 45/46 bypass when that facility opens on Dec. 5.

On Tuesday, the board also received an update on ridership numbers, which have not fully rebounded from the impact of the pandemic. In October of this year, BT gave about half the number of fixed route bus rides that it did in October 2019.

The basic geography covered by Route 2 West will stay the same as it is now. It starts at the downtown transit center, heads a bit north, then makes a loop around the northwest part of town, including the Bloomington Housing Authority’s Crestmont Community. The loop is a kind of box, bounded roughly by College Avenue, 17th Street, Crescent Road, and 11th Street.

The new configuration will trim off a north-south segment from the east side of the loop. That means the new Route 2 West won’t include service along Morton Street or College Avenue. The eastern edge of the loop will instead be formed by Rogers Street.

Trimming off the eastern edge of the loop is key to the main goal of reconfiguring Route 2 West, which is to improve on-time performance. Currently, Route 2 West struggles to complete its runs on time.

Planning and special projects manager Zac Hunec presented an iteration for Route 2 West on Tuesday that was not only clockwise, but also restored a segment that provides pretty direct service to the Crestmont Community.

In the version presented by Hunec on Tuesday, the segment leaves the outer box of the loop defined by 17th Street, heads down Lindbergh Drive, jogs over on 15th Street, down Illinois Street, right past the Crestmont Community, over on 12th and eventually down and across on 11th Street.

Hunec told the board that the changes were based on input from residents for two housing complexes—the Crestmont Community, and a new affordable housing development called Union at Crescent.

In Tuesday’s version, the Crestmont Community gets more direct service than the previous iteration—it’s pretty close to the current route alignment.

In the previous iteration, residents of Union at Crescent would have had about a quarter mile walk to the nearest stop. That stop was added as a part of a “notch” created in the northwest corner of the loop, to keep the distance to no more than a quarter mile.

Union at Crescent is on the east side of Crescent Road. A counterclockwise loop would go south down Crescent Road, which would mean putting a bus stop on the wrong side of the road for Union at Crescent. The current clockwise service goes north up Crescent Road, which can use a bus stop on the east side of the road. So Union at Crescent residents wanted to see the service stay clockwise, which Tuesday’s version does.

Helping to convince the BT board that these changes were warranted was some data plotted out by Hunec on a map, sourced from the automatic passenger counters (APCs) that BT has now installed on its buses. The APCs log counts of deboardings, as well as boardings, by specific location.

Installation of the APCs was approved under a $230,000 contract with Urban Transportation Associates in December of 2020.  The heavy ridership of Union at Crescent residents is reflected in the plot as one of the largest red circles on the map.

On Tuesday, the board also reviewed the new Route 10, which will run from the downtown transit center out to the new IU Health facility on the SR 45/46 bypass.

The new Route 10 will be temporary in the sense that it will last only until a systemwide new package of routes from an optimization study can be implemented.

The implementation of the optimized routes was planned for rollout in fall 2020. Route 10 would be subsumed by Route 90, which would take the place of the current routes 3 (College Mall) and Route 9 (IU Campus). Rollout of the optimized routes was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Route 2 West will be the first of the optimized routes to be implemented.  The goal of the optimized routes is to increase ridership.

Ridership on the fixed-route service has improved this year, compared to last year. About twice as many rides were given in October 2021 compared to October 2020.

But the effect of the pandemic is still evident in the numbers. The 197,902 rides given this October are still just about half the number of rides given in October 2019.

That’s due in part to BT’s driver shortage. Only about 70 percent of the runs on the current schedule can be staffed, according BT general manager John Connell.