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?”

Analysis: Bloomington city council to take up local income tax increase again this Wednesday

The sole item on this Wednesday’s special meeting of the Bloomington city council is a proposal to increase the countywide income tax by 0.855 points, which would bring Monroe County’s total rate to 2.2 percent.

Bloomington mayor John Hamilton re-floated the idea of a local income tax increase at his “state of the city” address this February. It was an idea he had unsuccessfully pitched in 2020. The mayor gave details of this year’s proposal in early April.

If the city council approves a LIT rate increase by a vote of at least 8–1, that will increase the tax for all residents of Monroe County. If the approval gets fewer than eight votes from the Bloomington city council, then the proposal would need to pick up some support from county councilors and/or members of the Ellettsville town council. Continue reading “Analysis: Bloomington city council to take up local income tax increase again this Wednesday”

Bloomington Transit set for Uber/Lyft pilot in May, to send city council memo on local income tax increase

On Tuesday night, the five-member Bloomington Transit (BT) board voted unanimously to go ahead with a pilot program starting in early May that will use Uber or Lyft—with a subsidy for the rides taken under BT’s banner—to replace late night service on some existing routes.

The board also discussed a proposal by Bloomington mayor John Hamilton to increase the local income tax paid by all Monroe County residents and to use some of Bloomington’s share of the additional revenue to fund new BT transportation initiatives.

The tax package includes around $5 million in public transportation projects, including a new east-west route with 15-minute frequency.

Board members expressed concern that the funding for the kind of transportation proposals described in the tax package would require some kind of long-term commitment by the city of Bloomington to BT. A memo with that message is supposed to be forwarded to the city council before Wednesday night’s city council meeting.

On Wednesday (April 20), the city council could take a final vote on the 0.855-point tax increase, which would raise the overall local income tax to a total of 2.2 percent.

Earlier in the day on Tuesday, BT announced that masks to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus would no longer be required on BT buses. That was the same approach that most transit providers seem to have taken after a federal judge struck down US President Joe Biden’s executive order requiring mask wearing. [text of US District Court Middle District of Florida ruling] Continue reading “Bloomington Transit set for Uber/Lyft pilot in May, to send city council memo on local income tax increase”

Local income tax notebook: Impact on public library, public bus depending on distribution method

Community  discussion of Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s proposed increase to the countywide local income tax (LIT) has not included much mention of category of LIT called the “certified shares” category.

two stacked bars side by side. Components of the layers are the different categories of LIT. The total height of the left bar is 1.345 which is the current rate. Adding in 0.855 of economic development category makes the right bar 2.2 high.
This article looks at the impact of enacting an additional 0.855 points in the certified shares (green) category of local income tax, instead of enacting the increase in the economic development category (lilac).

But the certified shares category makes up the biggest part of the current countywide local income tax rate.  It’s the green chunk of the bars in the chart that accompanies this article.

The certified shares category has a current rate of 0.9482 percent.

For Monroe County, the total current LIT rate is 1.345 percent, which comes from adding an additional 0.25 points in the public safety category, 0.0518 points in the property tax relief category, and another 0.0950 points in a special purpose category. The special purpose LIT revenues are used for juvenile services.

It’s the certified shares category of LIT that many other units of local government rely on for some of their basic operating expenses.

Among those units are all the townships, the Monroe County Public Library, Bloomington Transit, and the Monroe Fire Protection District. Continue reading “Local income tax notebook: Impact on public library, public bus depending on distribution method”

Bloomington Transit wants public input: Route changes, late-hours swap of regular bus for Uber/Lyft

A series of changes to optimize bus routes that were planned for 2020 implementation, but were delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, are now back under consideration by Bloomington Transit.

Highlights include: the consolidation of Routes 1 South and 7 Express into a single route to be called Route 7; and the merging of Route 3 East, Route 8 Local, Route 9 Campus, and Route 10 Hospital into a single route to be called Route 90.

The Route 90 would operate on a bidirectional loop, with 20-minute frequency each way. The loop would encompass downtown, the Indiana University campus, and some of the east side down to the College Mall area.

Subject to final board approval, those route changes would be implemented in August of this year.

A pilot project that could be rolled out earlier is the replacement of the late-night service on some routes with “microtransit.” That means passengers could take an Uber/Lyft style ride for the standard $1 fare, with the remaining cost, up to $15, to be covered by Bloomington Transit.

The pilot for the micro-transit would be rolled out in May, after the IU semester ends.
Continue reading “Bloomington Transit wants public input: Route changes, late-hours swap of regular bus for Uber/Lyft”

Transit notebook: Snowstorm debrief, deal OK’d with IU, ridership still down, strategic plan moves forward

Bloomington Transit drivers got some recognition from general manager John Connell at the five-member board’s regular monthly meeting on Tuesday night.

About the performance of drivers during the snowstorm and its aftermath on Feb. 3 and Feb. 4, Connell said, “I think our drivers did an incredible job. They had the toughest challenge.”

The debriefing on how things went during the snow was one of several topics BT staff reported to the board at their meeting.

One of the main business items appearing on the agenda was the annual financial agreement with Indiana University to allow affiliates of the school—students, faculty and staff—to board buses without paying a fare. That had been put off from the previous month’s meeting, because IU had not yet agreed to terms.

The agreement approved by BT’s board on Tuesday night reflects a 2.5% increase—which is half the 5-percent increase that BT was looking for from IU.

In pre-pandemic times, about 70 percent of ridership came from IU affiliates.

Ridership on fixed routes is still down compared to pre-pandemic times. For January this year, the 152,000 fixed route rides were three times the number given in January 2021, but about half the number in January 2020. That was was the next-to-last month before the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was felt. Continue reading “Transit notebook: Snowstorm debrief, deal OK’d with IU, ridership still down, strategic plan moves forward”

Bloomington Transit board talks strategic plan, new standard for judging ridership

At its monthly meeting on Tuesday, the five-member Bloomington Transit board reached a consensus that a consultant should be hired to help the public bus agency develop a five-to-seven-year strategic plan.

The new strategic plan will incorporate the new reality of diminished ridership, which continues to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In December 2021, 115,504 rides were given on BT’s fixed-route buses. That’s about twice the number of rides in December 2020. But it’s less than half the number of rides in December 2019.

When he reported out the monthly ridership numbers from December, BT’s planning and special projects manager Zac Hunec told the board: “We’re kind of shifting away from this mode of comparing our statistics to quote unquote, normal times.” Hunec added, “I think we’ve all kind of recognized this is the new normal. When we start looking at statistics, we’ll just be comparing it to the previous year.”

The next step on the strategic plan is to put together a request for proposals for potential consulting firms. Continue reading “Bloomington Transit board talks strategic plan, new standard for judging ridership”

Bloomington Transit board to start 2022 with work on strategic plan after contentious officer elections to end year

Is it possible that someday everyone waiting at a public bus stop in Bloomington could climb aboard without having to pay a fare?

Could Bloomington’s public buses ever follow routes that go outside the city limits, if they serve the interests of Bloomington residents?

Will Indiana University and Bloomington Transit (BT) ever extend their cooperative arrangements to a point where there’s just one public bus system in town?

Those are some of the questions that BT’s new board president James McLary would like to address in a strategic plan that the public transit corporation is developing. McLary spoke about BT’s strategic plan in a late December interview with The B Square.

The strategic plan will have to incorporate the impact of the pandemic on ridership. In November 2021, BT ridership on fixed routes was about half what it was in pre-pandemic times.

Appearing on the Bloomington Transit board’s Jan. 18 meeting agenda is an item under old business labeled “Development of a Strategic Plan for Bloomington Transit.”  That’s just a discussion item.

McLary’s election as the board’s president for 2022 came at the board’s Dec. 21 meeting. The 3–2 tally on the vote reflected the contentious character of the choice.

It’s an indicator that the board might not necessarily be in perfect alignment on elements of the strategic plan that it will be developing this year. Continue reading “Bloomington Transit board to start 2022 with work on strategic plan after contentious officer elections to end year”

Bloomington northwest side bus route revised after riders react, driver shortage still impacting ridership

Some planned changes to Bloomington Transit’s Route 2 West have now been put in reverse.

The loop that defines much of the route had been proposed to change from clockwise to counterclockwise.

But the most recent version, which was presented to the Bloomington Transit (BT) board as its Tuesday meeting, was clockwise.

Also included in the most recent version of Route 2 West, presented by planning and special projects manager Zac Hunec, was the restoration of closer service to Bloomington Housing Authority’s Crestmont Community.

This most recent iteration will be circulated to the public again before the board settles on a final version, which is supposed to start service in January 2022.

At its Tuesday meeting, the BT board also got an update on the new Route 10 that will provide service to IU Health’s new hospital on the SR 45/46 bypass when that facility opens on Dec. 5.

On Tuesday, the board also received an update on ridership numbers, which have not fully rebounded from the impact of the pandemic. In October of this year, BT gave about half the number of fixed route bus rides that it did in October 2019.

Continue reading “Bloomington northwest side bus route revised after riders react, driver shortage still impacting ridership”

Route 2 first of new optimized public bus routes to roll out, starting 2022

Riders of Bloomington Transit’s Route 2 West will notice some changes at the start of 2022.

The basic geography covered by the route will stay the same. It starts at the downtown transit center, heads a bit north, then makes a loop around the northwest part of town including the Bloomington Housing Authority’s Crestmont Community. The loop is a kind of box, bounded roughly by College Avenue, 17th Street, Crescent Road, and 11th Street.

The new configuration will trim off a north-south segment from the east side of the loop. That means the new Route 2 West won’t include service along Morton Street or College Avenue. The eastern edge of the loop will instead be formed by Rogers Street.

Another significant change is the removal of the segment that leaves the outer box of the loop defined by 17th Street, heads down Lindbergh Drive, jogs over on 15th Street, down Illinois Street, right past the Crestmont Community, over on 13th and eventually back up to 17th Street.

The new configuration still loops the bus inside the box, but from the southern 11th Street side. It will head up Illinois Street to 12th Street, past the Crestmont Community, north on Monroe Street, over on 14th Street, and back down Blair Avenue to 11th Street. Continue reading “Route 2 first of new optimized public bus routes to roll out, starting 2022”