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 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.
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.
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.
Ridership numbers, through June, for BT continue to show improvement over last year, but are still falling short of pre-pandemic figures.
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.
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.
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.
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.