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”

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. Continue reading “Bloomington Transit all in for electric buses, expansion of service, adopts $35M budget”

Monroe County looking to build new jail in SW Bloomington, $10M real estate deal gets initial OK

If Monroe County builds a new jail, where will it be located? The answer to that question came Wednesday morning.

A $10.02 million purchase agreement for an 87-acre piece of land at the northeast corner of I-69 and West Fullerton Pike was approved on a unanimous vote of the three Monroe County commissioners at their regular Wednesday meeting.

The land sits inside Bloomington in the southwest corner of the city.

The land deal is part of a plan to replace the jail currently located in the justice center building at 7th Street and College Avenue in downtown Bloomington. County officials hope to have the deal done by year’s end.

The impetus to replace the jail includes long-standing challenges identified in two reports from consultants delivered a year ago. Continue reading “Monroe County looking to build new jail in SW Bloomington, $10M real estate deal gets initial OK”

Booming Bloomington Transit budget in 2023: Will more than double, from $15M to $34M

The Bloomington city council’s approval of a local income tax increase earlier this year, which is supposed to earmark about $4 million a year to support public transit, is already reflected in the first draft of Bloomington Transit’s 2023 budget.

Bloomington Transit board members reviewed the draft budget at their regular meeting on Tuesday.

The $34 million that is proposed to be spent in 2023 is more than double the $15 million approved for this year’s budget.

Most of the increase is due to the capital cost of buying 18 new buses—four replacements, eight for expanded service, and six for increased frequency. All of those buses would be battery-electric vehicles.

Some of the increase is due to factors that are not unique to Bloomington. The line item for fuel, in the supplies category, will be increasing from $877,500 to $1,472,500. Right now, diesel fuel costs $4.30 per gallon. That stacks up against the 2022 budgeted amount of $2.75 per gallon. So given the market uncertainty, the draft 2023 budget has allowed $5.25 per gallon for diesel fuel.

Two key questions came from BT board member Kent McDaniel, who on Wednesday was re-appointed to the board by the Bloomington city council: How will BT pay for all those buses, and where will they be stored? Continue reading “Booming Bloomington Transit budget in 2023: Will more than double, from $15M to $34M”

Bloomington Transit driver now on board US citizens bus: “Happy Fourth of July, my fellow Americans!”

Bloomington Transit bus driver Cristian Miguel Ramirez spent Thursday afternoon piloting one of the public bus agency’s 40-footers.

Earlier that morning, Ramirez had been congratulated by BT staff and board members on passing a recent milestone: Six weeks ago, he took the oath to become a US citizen.

On May 17, he joined 32 other Hoosiers for the naturalization ceremony, at a venue where the vehicles roll along a smidgen faster than the average BT bus—the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

In his remarks on Thursday morning in the BT driver’s break room, BT general manager John Connell led off by thanking all the BT employees, who had all worked so hard through the COVID-19 pandemic.

About Ramirez, Connell said, “He’s worked a lot of overtime. He’s been an outstanding employee.” Connell added, “He’s found time to do everything necessary to become a US citizen. So we’d like to congratulate him and wish him the best!” Continue reading “Bloomington Transit driver now on board US citizens bus: “Happy Fourth of July, my fellow Americans!””

Taking BT Late Nite for a spin: $1 trip by public bus for ice cream, same $1 for trip with Uber back home

Starting Monday, scheduled bus service on several Bloomington Transit fixed routes are ending a couple hours earlier.

By around 9:30 p.m. on Monday, the big 40-foot buses on Routes 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 had ended their runs for the day.

But Bloomington residents could still take rides using the public transportation system—from 9 a.m. to midnight—through a program that Bloomington Transit is marketing as BT Late Nite.

For areas of the city within a quarter mile of those early-ending routes, BT Late Nite now offers passengers who have a smartphone the option of taking rides using Uber or Lyft—for just the regular $1 fare. BT Late Nite operates Monday through Friday.

The difference between the actual cost of the ride on Uber/Lyft and the $1 fare paid by the passenger is covered by BT. Both ride hailing companies are handling the BT portion of the fare through a voucher system.

After the BT Late Nite test ride taken by The B Square on Monday evening, the Uber fare of $8.90 was still shown on the digital receipt as a “pending” charge against the B Square’s credit card. Based on Uber documentation, that should eventually be adjusted down to $1, with the rest of the amount covered by the BT Late Nite voucher. Continue reading “Taking BT Late Nite for a spin: $1 trip by public bus for ice cream, same $1 for trip with Uber back home”

June 27 start for Uber/Lyft in place of Bloomington bus night runs, Aug. 15 start for new fixed routes

Bloomington Transit’s (BT’s) new optimized bus routes will finally debut on Aug. 15 this year.

That’s the result of BT board action at its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday.

The routes were supposed to roll out two years ago, in fall 2020, but that launch date was delayed until this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the new routes to be implemented later this fall will be a lot different from those recommended by BT’s consultant three years ago.

Also getting a mention at Tuesday’s board meeting was the June 27 launch of subsidized rides on Uber or Lyft  as a replacement for night service (9 p.m. to midnight) on several BT fixed routes. The board had previously approved the service change. The only question had been the start date.

Under terms of the late-night service, which is branded as “BT Late Night,” passengers pay the usual $1 fare, with the difference, up to $19, paid by BT. Rides have to start and end inside a prescribed area of the city, which does not include chunks of the Indiana University campus, because fixed route bus service will continue for those parts of town.

The Uber/Lyft subsidized service for late evening hours was originally supposed to start on May 9, right after Indiana University’s spring semester ended. But details related to the technology platform took longer than expected to iron out.

At its Tuesday meeting, BT’s five-member board touched on several other familiar topics. Continue reading “June 27 start for Uber/Lyft in place of Bloomington bus night runs, Aug. 15 start for new fixed routes”

BT Roundup: mid-June for Uber/Lyft night runs, new bus routes in August, strategic plan contract OK’d, 8 new electric buses requested, still 14 drivers short

Bloomington Transit (BT) is confronting several short-term challenges even as it looks ahead to a future flush with new revenue.

The new revenue will come from the city of Bloomington’s planned allocation to BT using some of extra money from the local income tax increase that was enacted by the city council two weeks ago.

The range of short- and long-term issues was evident at Tuesday’s regular monthly meeting of the BT board.
Continue reading “BT Roundup: mid-June for Uber/Lyft night runs, new bus routes in August, strategic plan contract OK’d, 8 new electric buses requested, still 14 drivers short”

Analysis: Does a local law need to change so a Bloomington public bus can run outside the city?

Map showing bus routes going outside of Bloomington city limits
Excerpt of map showing configuration of routes recommended by Bloomington Transit consultant in 2019.

If Bloomington Transit wanted to run buses outside of Bloomington’s city limits, what, if any, legal requirements would have to be met?

Specifically, what legal requirements would have to be met, in order for Bloomington Transit to serve educational and employment centers like Ivy Tech or Cook Medical—which are outside the city limits on the western edge of town?

In the last few years, the standard answer has been: An amendment to a local law  would have to be enacted by the city council.

But a closer look at the local law, and a state statute, suggests that a change to the local law might not be needed.

Instead, the city council would just have to approve any proposed bus service outside the city’s boundaries.

A request from BT to run buses to specific locations outside city limits could presumably be placed on the city council’s agenda by BT—just like approval of its annual budget and tax rate is placed on the city council’s agenda. BT could not force the city council to grant approval.

But that stands in contrast to an ordinance that would change city code. BT does not have the right to place a proposed change to city code on the city council’s agenda, much less force the council to enact it.

Why is this legal issue about the geography of BT’s service area somewhat pressing? Continue reading “Analysis: Does a local law need to change so a Bloomington public bus can run outside the city?”