The Bloomington Transit (BT) board will be drafting a thank-you letter to the city council for the council’s resolution passed unanimously in early September.
The resolution expressed support for the idea of extending public bus service outside the city limits to Daniels Way, if Monroe County government covers the incremental cost.
And BT general manager John Connell will be giving the board a couple of different alternatives for providing some service out to Daniels Way—which would likely mean a loop around Ivy Tech, Cook Medical, and other employers.
Those are two concrete steps the BT board and Connell settled on after chewing on the topic for a bit at the board’s regular monthly meeting on Tuesday.
But the informal conversation on the subject indicated that BT has a vision that includes more than extending one specific route a mile and a half outside the city boundaries.
The discussion took place as ridership on regular fixed route service is showing signs that it’s starting to rebound from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 178,423 fixed-route rides in August of this year amount to 90 percent of the rides given in August of 2019, which totaled 199,118 rides. Through most of this year, BT had been running between 55 and 60 percent of 2019 ridership.
On the topic of the service outside of Bloomington’s city limits, general manager Connell said BT needs to check the community consensus on BT’s role and whether it might take more of a “regional approach.”
The alternative to taking a comprehensive regional approach would be to seek approval for each and every additional extension of service that BT wanted to offer. Connell put it like this: “Are we going to piecemeal, and go to the city council for a resolution for Daniels Way, and then a resolution for the next potential services expansion or addition?”
Connell indicated that to provide service to Daniels Way, he does not think adding to the existing Route 3 is a good option in the short term. That’s because it would not allow Route 3 buses to run on time.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce director of advocacy Christopher Emge called for BT to offer service to Daniels Way quickly—in time to serve the spring semester students at Ivy Tech. Emge cited a relatively small incremental cost of $75,000 to $100,000, which is a lot lower than the total cost of adding express cross-town east-west service that is also eventually supposed to be in the works.
Responding to Emge was BT board member Doug Horn who said the BT board has been working toward this “crack in the door” for many years. Horn added, “We’re happy with it. We’re pleased that those in authority are considering the issue. And we’ll do our part to continue the conversation.”
It was Horn who suggested on Tuesday that BT should write a letter to the city council to express its appreciation directly for the resolution that was passed. Horn said the letter should “not offer any negative-ism” and instead focus just on the positive. The letter should say that the timing of the resolution was good, because it will help BT to develop a more effective strategic plan, and it might encourage everyone to think about more than just a single route.
Board chair James McLary echoed the same sentiments he’d expressed before the city council voted on the resolution—that the resolution is “better than nothing.” McLary is hoping for a more comprehensive authorization from the council to operate outside the city’s boundaries.
Even though BT is a separate corporate entity, with its own property tax levy, BT’s annual budget is subject to city council approval. And three of five BT board seats are appointed by the city council. The other two are appointed by Bloomington’s mayor.
BT board member Kent McDaniel said on Tuesday it might be worth checking with outside legal counsel on the status of the resolution that was passed by the city council.
The resolution says the city council “supports the extension of service” but does not say “authorizes the extension of service.” So McDaniel does not think the resolution authorizes BT to do anything.
That means BT could be asking its outside legal counsel, The Rothberg Law Firm, to take a look at the city council’s resolution to sort out whether it actually authorizes anything, and to consider what more general legal options might be available for giving BT the ability to offer service outside the city limits.
Connell also said he would make sure that Foursquare ITP, which is BT’s consultant for the development of a strategic plan, is aware of the city council’s resolution.