Careers, not jobs: Bloomington Transit GM describes new bus driver contract

On Tuesday night, Bloomington Transit’s five-member board approved a new four-year collective bargaining agreement with AFSCME Local 613, the bus drivers union.

Under the new contract, for full-time fixed-route bus drivers in their third year of service, the hourly wage will increase from $19.69 now to $21.19 in January 2022. That’s a 7.6-percent increase.

By the fourth year of the contract, those drivers will be paid $25.69 an hour, which is a 30.5-percent increase over their current wage.

New BT general manager John Connell, who took over from retiring Lew May at the start of the month, told the board, “One of the goals that we set out was to establish an increase in pay and benefits where we could be in a position to offer careers, not jobs. And I think this contract does that.”

Connell continued, “It’s a four-year term. And in the fourth year, our wages will be very competitive.”

He added, “We’re hoping to see some improvements in our recruiting efforts.” Due to a driver shortage, BT is currently making just about 70 percent of the runs that it would normally make this time of year, Connell said at Tuesday’s board meeting. Continue reading “Careers, not jobs: Bloomington Transit GM describes new bus driver contract”

City council budget hearing draws questions for Bloomington Transit on fare-free rides, geographic expansion

At Tuesday’s hearing of Bloomington Transit’s proposed 2022 budget in front of the city council, BT’s general manager, Lew May, fielded a question he’s heard many years before, including last year.

Has BT considered making the public bus service fare free?

A new question this year: How is BT thinking about providing service in the context of Bloomington’s annexation proposal?

May’s answer on the fare-free question was the same as it has been before: Yes, but that would depend on identifying a source of funding to make up the revenue shortfall.

Fares make up a relatively small percentage of BT’s revenue budget, which totals about $15 million in 2022.

But there would still be around $600,000 in annual fares to cover, that normally is paid by regular rank-and-file resident passengers.

Also potentially in the mix would be a roughly $1-million annual contribution made by Indiana University to allow faculty, students and staff to board without paying a fare. Continue reading “City council budget hearing draws questions for Bloomington Transit on fare-free rides, geographic expansion”

Bloomington Transit OKs side letter with drivers union: Pay bump, $1,000 essential-worker bonus

At its Tuesday meeting, the five-member Bloomington Transit board voted to approve a side letter agreement with AFSCME Local 613, which is the drivers union.

The agreement is hoped to aid recruitment of new drivers—BT is currently short by about a dozen. The agreement is also hoped to reduce a recent spate of cancelled bus runs, chronicled on BT’s Twitter account, due to lack of drivers on the overtime list.

The side letter increases starting pay for drivers by $2 an hour—from $16.32 to $18.32—and gives those with more experience a $1,000 essential-worker bonus.

The context of the phrase “essential worker” connects to the COVID-19 pandemic. Drivers were still expected to keep the buses running, even though the number of service hours was reduced.

To cover the cost of the essential-worker bonus, BT will use money it received through the federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act.

The side letter approved by the board also requires at least 12 drivers to sign up for the overtime list. The letter also clarifies the wording of the existing collective bargaining agreement (CBA) about how overtime can be mandated and the right to refuse a withdrawal from the overtime list.

The side letter is still contingent on a vote of the union membership. Continue reading “Bloomington Transit OKs side letter with drivers union: Pay bump, $1,000 essential-worker bonus”

Bloomington public buses skipping scheduled runs due to driver shortage

On Monday morning, Bloomington Transit’s Twitter feed announced that service along the Route 6 Limited and the Route 9 Limited would be cut during specific times during the day.

A tweet sent at 8:02 a.m. said, “There will be no 6 Limited this morning and no 9 Limited this evening. Sorry for any inconvenience.”

The first tweet was followed by another one at 8:26 a.m. clarifying the times when those routes would be curtailed: “The 6 Limited will resume at 1:10 today. 9 Limited will end at 2:30.”

BT has confirmed to The B Square the connection between the skipped routes on Monday and BT’s current driver shortage.

Based on discussion at the BT board’s most recent meeting, Bloomington’s regular public bus staffing is short 12 drivers. Continue reading “Bloomington public buses skipping scheduled runs due to driver shortage”

Draft 2022 Bloomington Transit budget would bump pay by 3 percent, recruitment of drivers a worry

At just a smidgen over $15 million, Bloomington Transit’s preliminary budget for 2022 is about 3.7 percent more than last year’s approved total amount.

That’s the number that Bloomington Transit’s general manager Lew May presented to BT’s five-member board at its meeting last Tuesday.

Some of that increase is due to an increase in employee compensation. The preliminary budget is based on a 3-percent increase in wages. How much the increase actually turns out to be will depend on the outcome of negotiations with the drivers, who are represented by AFSCME Local 613.

Those negotiations will need to take place over the next few months, because BT’s labor agreement ends on Dec. 31, 2021.

The timing for the back-and-forth between BT and drivers will coincide broadly with BT’s transition from May’s leadership, who has served 22 years as general manager, to John Connell’s, who was the board’s pick last week to succeed May. Connell is now operations manager for the Greater Lafayette Public Transportation Corporation.

BT’s board will likely vote on the final budget at its August meeting. The budget will then be presented to Bloomington’s city council for review and approval, in a separate vote from the city’s own budget.

The collective bargaining agreement could be a factor in addressing BT’s current shortage of drivers. A June job fair attracted no new applicants to fill the 12 positions that BT is currently short. Continue reading “Draft 2022 Bloomington Transit budget would bump pay by 3 percent, recruitment of drivers a worry”

Bloomington Transit board makes choice on new general manager, will negotiate contract details for vote at August meeting

Bloomington Transit’s five-member board voted unanimously Tuesday night, on its pick for the next general manager of the city’s public bus system: John Connell.

A view of the Bloomington Transit board room at the Grimes Lane facility for the July 20, 2021 meeting. Board members are seated at the table on the left. The two candidates for the general managership of BT and representatives from the two management companies are seated in the audience to the right.

He is now operations manager for the public bus system in Lafayette and West Lafayette, another Indiana college town. The bus system there is called the Greater Lafayette Public Transportation Corporation, and operates as CityBus.

BT’s general manager position would have become vacant at the end of September when current general manager Lew May’s contract runs out.

May had originally intended to retire last year after more than two decades of service. He agreed to stay on, to shepherd the bus system through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Board members indicated some interest in negotiating some overlap for May and Connell when the details of the contract are worked out, between now and the board’s August meeting. At that meeting, the board will vote on a contract. Continue reading “Bloomington Transit board makes choice on new general manager, will negotiate contract details for vote at August meeting”

Column: Meetings better for in-person attendees, if a remote connection is provided

Screen shot of Zoom connection during the June 15, 2021 Bloomington Transit board meeting.

I attended an in-person government meeting on Tuesday, but logged in to the remote Zoom connection anyway. And I’m glad I did.

Why? I was able to hear and see better than I could have, by just sitting there listening and looking, without being logged in to Zoom.

Here’s some background. Continue reading “Column: Meetings better for in-person attendees, if a remote connection is provided”

Bloomington public bus drivers needed, Route 8 could see “microtransit” pilot

Bloomington Transit (BT) has a critical need for more drivers in the fall, when Indiana University’s normal fall semester starts.

And fixed-route service on Route 8 could see a one-year experimental replacement in September—with a combination of service provided through BT by Uber and Lyft.

Those were two takeaways from the Bloomington Transit board’s Tuesday night meeting.

The topics mean some significant work for the board and staff in the coming months, in addition to items already on their plates.

The board will need to make a decision on replacing 20-year veteran general manager Lew May, whose retirement is anticipated for August of this year. And the current collective bargaining agreement with the bus drivers union goes just through the end of the year, so it needs to be re-negotiated.

The BT board’s in-person Tuesday meeting was held in a way that offered access via the Zoom video conferencing platform.

All five board members attended in person. From a tech perspective, the hybrid setup appeared to work glitch-free. Continue reading “Bloomington public bus drivers needed, Route 8 could see “microtransit” pilot”

Bloomington Transit back to charging bus fares on July 1, passengers to board at front

On July 1, Bloomington Transit (BT) buses will resume collecting the standard $1 fare for fixed-route bus rides.

The BT board’s vote to resume fare collection, after operating fare-free for over a year, came at its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday.

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. Continue reading “Bloomington Transit back to charging bus fares on July 1, passengers to board at front”

$3K incentive for new Bloomington bus drivers, as ridership creeps upward from pandemic lows

Bloomington’s public bus system is about 10 drivers short of the number needed to ramp service back up to meet the needs of Indiana University students and affiliates in a post-COVID-19 climate.

“For us to be able to restore the full level of service to the IU campus, we would need to hire about 10 drivers,” Bloomington Transit general manager Lew May told the board at its monthly meeting on Tuesday.

Indiana University is resuming in-person classes in the fall.

May laid out the urgency of the hiring situation: “We’ve got about four months to go, to make those hires.”

To help with the hiring effort, at Tuesday’s meeting, BT’s board approved a series of incentives.

Incentives include: increasing the employee referral incentive from $1,000 to $3,000; implementing a new employee hiring incentive of $3,000; a $100 incentive for getting a COVID-19 vaccination.

BT is also planning to host an on-site job fair in mid-May where applicants could be interviewed on the spot. Continue reading “$3K incentive for new Bloomington bus drivers, as ridership creeps upward from pandemic lows”