Bloomington Transit all in for electric buses, expansion of service, adopts $35M budget

Bloomington Transit’s board of directors has adopted a $35-million budget for 2023, which is more than double the figure for 2022.

Action to adopt the budget came at the board’s regular monthly meeting on Tuesday. The big increase is fueled by revenues that include $20.2 million in federal funding (much of it to buy electric buses), about $3.8 million in local income tax (LIT) revenue from the city of Bloomington, and $3.5 million from BT’s own reserves.

While four of the new battery electric buses in BT’s 2023 budget are replacement vehicles for old diesel-fueled buses already in the fleet, another eight are needed for the planned new east-west express route that the city of Bloomington’s contribution of LIT is supposed to help fund. Another six buses are needed to increase the frequency of service.

One kind of planned expanded service won’t require any additional buses—adding Sunday bus runs. Sunday service could be implemented as soon as the first quarter of 2023, BT general manager John Connell said on Tuesday.

BT is now all-in for battery electric buses. At Tuesday’s meeting, the board adopted a resolution that envisions a 100-percent battery electric bus fleet by 2050. Two interim goals in the resolution are to purchase only lower-emission and electric buses, and to transition to a 60-percent battery electric bus fleet by 2030.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, two questions related to the acquisition of buses were addressed. Given the current driver shortage, who is going to drive the additional buses? Where will BT store the additional vehicles?

On the first question, the board got some encouraging news from human resources director Brenda Underwood. Her written report showed two new bus driver hires, which still leaves 10 vacancies. But she told the board she’d hired five new drivers the day before, and two new drivers are working on their paperwork. The following day, five interviews were scheduled, Underwood said.

It was board member Kent McDaniel who asked the question about storage for the new buses: “Where are we going to put ‘em?” McConnell told McDaniel the 2023 budget includes $250,000 for professional real estate services to help BT navigate the process of acquiring land adjoining the Grimes Lane facility.

There’s not a lot of time to sort out the storage solution. McConnell said BT could sign a contract for the electric buses in the first quarter of 2023. Given supply chain issues, it could take as long as 14 months to take delivery. That means the additional buses could be arriving in the first quarter of 2024. McConnell summed it up like this: “So we don’t have a whole lot of time.”

BT’s 2023 budget includes a minimum 5-percent increase in employee compensation. The actual increase depends on job positions and collectively bargained contrasts. The 5-percent figure is consistent with Monroe County government’s approach to compensation. Year-over-year inflation from December 2020 to December 2021 is 7.5 percent. The increase in property tax levy for local governments for 2023 is 5 percent.

Bloomington Transit is a separate corporation from the city of Bloomington. But BT’s budget still has to get approved by the Bloomington city council.

McConnell will be presenting BT’s 2023 budget to the city council next Tuesday (Aug. 30) as part of the week-long series of departmental budget presentations. Adoption by the city council won’t come until late September or early October.