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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bloomington Transit bus plies its route on Feb. 3, 2022.
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.
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.”
James McLary at the July 2021 Bloomington Transit board meeting.
Nancy Obermeyer at the July 2021 Bloomington Transit board meeting.
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.
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.
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.