Strategic plan for Bloomington Transit calls for collaboration, extending service beyond city limits

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). Continue reading “Strategic plan for Bloomington Transit calls for collaboration, extending service beyond city limits”

Passengers thank Bloomington public bus driver Donny Reynolds as he wraps up 43 years of service

On Friday morning, driver Donny Reynolds was posted outside the Route #5 bus at Bloomington’s downtown transit center, greeting a couple of passengers as they boarded.

“Good morning and watch your step—it’s dark in there right now!”

Reynolds flipped on the inside lights as soon as he slid into the driver’s seat. He was starting the first run of his final day driving a public bus in Bloomington.

His first day at the wheel of a Bloomington public bus came 43 years ago on June 2, 1979. At that time, the bus service was provided through a city department, before the Bloomington Public Transportation Corporation was established.

On the morning’s first run for Route #5, at a stop along Atwater Avenue, a couple of Jackson Creek Middle School students boarded. “Good morning, ladies!” came the cheery greeting from Reynolds. Continue reading “Passengers thank Bloomington public bus driver Donny Reynolds as he wraps up 43 years of service”

Bloomington Transit OKs 5-year deal, will get $3.8 million annually from city’s local income tax

Bloomington Transit will receive at least $3.8 million a year for the next five years from the city of Bloomington, under an interlocal agreement approved by BT’s five-member board at its final meeting of the year, on Dec. 20.

The agreement still needs to win approval from Bloomington’s city council.

The deal is expected to appear on a city council meeting agenda sometime in January, based on remarks from BT general manager John Connell at last week’s board meeting.

The money is coming from the increase to the local income tax that was approved by the city council in May of 2022.

The big initiative that the money is supposed to help fund is an east-west crosstown express route.

Some other specific initiatives that the money is supposed to pay for include: implementation of Sunday service in the first quarter of 2023; enhancement of the paratransit microtransit services; increasing frequency of weekday service; and development of a ridership subsidy program.

The new transit initiatives come as BT is clawing back ridership on its regular fixed route service, after a big drop when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020. Continue reading “Bloomington Transit OKs 5-year deal, will get $3.8 million annually from city’s local income tax”

Public bus notebook: BT to work with Go Bloomington on guaranteed rides home

Bloomington Transit’s five-member board has approved in concept the idea that the Go Bloomington program will tap into BT’s existing arrangements with Uber and Lyft, to give program participants a guaranteed ride home.

Through October, Bloomington Transit fixed route ridership continues to show gains over last year, but still well under pre-pandemic numbers.

Go Bloomington  is the branding that’s been adopted for the city’s transportation demand management program. The idea is to help participants find other ways to get to work, besides driving a car by themselves.

The idea behind a “guaranteed ride home” feature is that someone might be more inclined to take the public bus, bicycle, or walk to work—if they know that they have a backstop for any unexpected transportation need.

If someone’s day unfolds in an unexpected way, they’ll be able to use a voucher with Uber or Lyft to handle whatever scenario has come up.

What the BT board approved at last Tuesday’s monthly meeting was a motion to authorize BT general manager John Connell to develop the interlocal agreement that’s needed, in order to make sure that BT gets reimbursed by Go Bloomington for the cost of the rides. Continue reading “Public bus notebook: BT to work with Go Bloomington on guaranteed rides home”

Negative stamp on rezone for jail by Bloomington plan commission, could still win city council’s OK

The Monroe County government’s planned construction of a new jail on an 87-acre parcel in the southwest corner of Bloomington hit a snag on Monday night.

By a 6–3 vote, Bloomington’s plan commission supported the planning staff’s recommendation to send a negative recommendation to the city council about Monroe County government’s request for a rezone of the 87 acres, so that a jail could be built there.

The county government’s request would change the zoning of the land from mixed-use employment (ME) to mixed-use institutional (MI). Use of the property as a jail would not be allowed under ME, but could be allowed under MI.

A jail is a “conditional use” under MI zoning.

That means even if the city council were to approve the rezone, Monroe County government would still have to go through the conditional use approval process in front of the city’s board of zoning appeals.

On Monday, a staff attorney for the county, Jeff Cockerill, told the plan commission that Monroe County had a purchase agreement for the land, contingent on approval of a rezone—but that agreement expires at the end of the year.

After this Wednesday, the city council’s calendar for the rest of the year has two more regular meetings.

There’s now a 10-day timeframe for planning director Scott Robinson to certify the outcome of the plan commission’s Monday recommendation to the city clerk. That would set up Monroe County government with enough time to hit the deadline for submission of the materials to the city council office for the council’s Dec. 7 meeting, when the rezone could get a first reading.

That could set the table for the city council to approve the rezone, when it would get a second reading at the council’s final meeting of the year on Dec. 21. Continue reading “Negative stamp on rezone for jail by Bloomington plan commission, could still win city council’s OK”

Transit board wants attorney’s advice on legal requirements for service outside Bloomington

Bloomington Transit’s five-member board wants general manager John Connell to get legal advice on a specific question about the steps, if any, that need to be taken so that public bus service can be offered outside Bloomington’s city limits.

That was the outcome of a half hour’s worth of discussion at the BT board’s regular monthly meeting on Tuesday.

The board’s discussion came after Bloomington’s city council approved an early-September resolution  expressing its support for extending BT’s service to Daniels Way, which is west of the city limits. Service to Daniels Way could serve Ivy Tech and Cook Medical, among other destinations.

At its September meeting, the BT board had already discussed the legal significance of the city council’s resolution. Their immediate concern was to determine if the resolution was an adequate legal basis for extending service outside the city limits. It wasn’t.

That was confirmed by BT’s outside counsel, which is The Rothberg Law Firm. In a memo to the BT board, Connell quoted the Rothberg attorney who worked on the question: “[T]he city council resolution is nothing more than a statement of support.” Continue reading “Transit board wants attorney’s advice on legal requirements for service outside Bloomington”

First rezone hearing for potential new jail highlights employment center versus institutional use

On Monday, a lot of ground got covered at the Bloomington plan commission’s first hearing about a rezone request from Monroe County government.

The rezone is needed if a new jail is to be built in the southwest corner of the city.

But one topic emerged as a big concern for plan commissioners: Should they depart from the “employment center” designation for the area that is reflected in the city’s comprehensive plan?

The current mixed-use employment (ME) zoning for the 87-acre parcel squares up perfectly with the comprehensive plan’s designation. The county’s request would change the zoning of the land from mixed-use employment (ME) to mixed-use institutional (MI). Use of the property as a jail would not be allowed under ME, but could be allowed under MI. A jail is a “conditional use” under MI zoning.

President of the plan commission, Brad Wisler, put it like this: “A large chunk of our employment in Bloomington comes from those uses that the ME zone is designed for.” Wisler added, “If you look at things like Cook, Catalent, et cetera, if we ever want to attract another one of those types of employers, this seems like a prime spot for it.”

The second hearing in front of the plan commission is set for Nov. 14. The plan commission’s recommendation will feed into the Bloomington city council’s decision on the rezone. Continue reading “First rezone hearing for potential new jail highlights employment center versus institutional use”

Rezone request for potential county jail property to be heard by Bloomington plan commission

Should an 87-acre parcel in the southwest corner of Bloomington be rezoned so that a new Monroe County jail can be built there?

That’s the question that Bloomington plan commissioners will start tackling at their regular meeting on Monday (Oct. 10).

Instead of voting at that meeting on the rezone request from Monroe County, city plan commissioners will likely move the matter to a second hearing to be held at their November meeting.

The county’s request would change the zoning of the land from mixed-use employment (ME) to mixed-use institutional (MI). Use of the property as a jail would not be allowed under ME, but could be under MI. A jail is a “conditional use” under MI zoning.

Monroe County has made an offer to purchase the property for about $10 million. But that offer is contingent on  an eventual rezone, approved by the city council.

The plan commission’s recommendation on the rezone, for or against, will be a big factor eventually considered by city councilmembers when the request comes before them. Continue reading “Rezone request for potential county jail property to be heard by Bloomington plan commission”

Delayed: Bloomington plan commission hearing on rezone for possible future site of Monroe County jail

An expected hearing next week on Monroe County government’s request for a rezoning of 87 acres in southwest Bloomington has been put off until October.

The reason for the delay was a failure by Monroe County government to post the required signs at the property, 21 days before the hearing.

The site is the hoped-for location of the new jail that Monroe County is looking to build, in order to meeting constitutional standards.

The rezoning, from mixed-use employment (ME) to mixed-use institutional (MI), was expected to be heard by the Bloomington plan commission next Monday (Sept. 12).

But that hearing has been put off until October 10. In the vocabulary used by the plan commission the hearing has been “continued” until the regular monthly meeting in October.

Bloomington and Monroe County officials have confirmed to The B Square that the hearing was put off a month, because the required signs were not posted at the property at least 21 days before the hearing. Continue reading “Delayed: Bloomington plan commission hearing on rezone for possible future site of Monroe County jail”

Public buses outside Bloomington: City council goes on record in support, if county govt pays extra cost

Winning unanimous approval from Bloomington’s city council on Wednesday night was a resolution  that expresses support for the extension of Bloomington Transit (BT) bus service outside the city limits, to Daniels Way.

The route shown in purple was proposed as part of the recommendations from Foursquare Integrated Transportation Planning in June 2019 to optimize Bloomington Transit’s routes.

The turn off 3rd Street to Daniels Way is about three quarters of a mile west of the city limits. New bus service north on Daniels Way, to make a loop around Ivy Tech, Cook Medical, and other employers, would mean extending the route something like a mile and a half.

Wednesday’s resolution expresses intent for the council eventually to make the necessary approvals for service outside the city, but itself has no legal impact.

The resolution’s sole sponsor on the city council, Steve Volan, sees the resolution as “removing a source of doubt for the mayor and for all of our county colleagues” about the city council’s willingness to do “its part” to make public bus service outside the city limits possible.

Under state law, to do “its part,” the city council would have to approve any extension of public bus service outside of city limits. Continue reading “Public buses outside Bloomington: City council goes on record in support, if county govt pays extra cost”