The big news out of Bloomington Transit’s (BT’s) regular board meeting on Tuesday was the unanimous adoption of a strategic plan.
It was developed with help from consultant Foursquare ITP, under a $100,000 contract.
An item on Tuesday’s agenda with a much bigger price tag was the $7.9 million approval of a purchase order with Gillig Corporation for eight battery-electric buses.
But the electric bus purchase order intersects with at least two of the four initiatives that are listed out in the strategic plan: partnerships and engagement (Initiative 1); and modernization of operations (Initiative 2).
The strategic plan is organized under four initiatives, each of which have several strategies for implementation. Under each strategy are specific tactics.
Electric buses fit obviously into modernizing operations, which is Initiative 2. One of the strategies under Initiative 2 is to make a full transition to battery-electric buses (BEBs), to achieve a zero-emissions fleet.
A tactic under the BEB transition strategy is to upgrade BT’s bus storage area so that there’s adequate charging capacity. With its current configuration, the existing BT facility at Grimes Lane could not accommodate a fleet that is 100-percent battery electric.
Upgrading the charging capacity for BT’s facility dovetails into another strategy under Initiative 2: Modernize or replace the operating and maintenance facility.
Replacing or modifying the current Grimes Lane facility would tap into Initiative 1, which is partnerships and engagement.
The real estate for the Grimes Lane facility is owned by Indiana University. BT and IU Campus Bus services are co-located there. So one of the strategies under Initiative 1 is to expand opportunities for collaboration and integration with IU Campus Bus, beyond mere co-location.
As the adopted plan puts it: “While the arrangement has benefited both agencies, the operation of two parallel systems results in unnecessary costs and reduces the seamlessness of the passenger experience.” A tactic under collaboration with IU Campus Bus is to engage Campus Bus in the facility planning process.
Another strategy under Initiative 1 is to collaborate with the city of Bloomington in several ways.
One of those ways is reflected under an Initiative 1 strategy, to establish BT as the community’s mobility manager. A tactic under that strategy is to consolidate transportation demand management (TDM) programs with Bloomington Transit.
The BT strategic plan acknowledges the recently established city of Bloomington TDM program. But BT’s strategic plan says, “Although Bloomington recently established a TDM program, such activities would be more coordinated if they were operated from within BPTC.”
BPTC is the full acronym for the bus agency’s legal name: Bloomington Public Transportation Corporation.
Initiative 1 also calls for BT to implement a strategy of removing barriers to allow BT to provide service throughout Monroe County, not just inside the city limits. Under that strategy is the tactic of working with partners “to identify options for the legislative changes necessary to operate outside the city.”
The plan continues, “BPTC can implement service outside the city boundary in phases.”
Part of the context for the strategic plan’s analysis of bus service outside the city limits is a September 2022 Bloomington city council resolution that supported BT expansion.
But the city council’s resolution made its support contingent on the ratification of “equitable interlocal agreements between the city and county that specify areas of, and appropriate funding mechanisms for, those extended services.”
In contrast, the strategic plan adopted by BT’s board on Tuesday states: “Limited expansion can occur without a comprehensive cost-sharing agreement between the city and Monroe County.”
Here are the four initiatives from BT’s strategic plan:
Initiative 1: Partnerships and Engagement – We will build and strengthen our relationships with external partners, ensuring we are an engine for mobility, economic development, and equity in the Bloomington community.
Initiative 2: Modernize Operations – We will strive to be a national leader among small transit providers in innovation and efficiency. New technology and operating practices will make us more responsive to the needs of our customers.
Initiative 3: Employee Recruiting, Retention, and Satisfaction – Our employees are our organization. We will continue to invest in recruitment, staff training, and well-being.
Initiative 4: Customer-Facing Service Improvements – We will continue to optimize and improve our services, from making our bus services more convenient and responsive to customer needs, to expanding alternative service models like microtransit.