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”

Careers, not jobs: Bloomington Transit GM describes new bus driver contract

On Tuesday night, Bloomington Transit’s five-member board approved a new four-year collective bargaining agreement with AFSCME Local 613, the bus drivers union.

Under the new contract, for full-time fixed-route bus drivers in their third year of service, the hourly wage will increase from $19.69 now to $21.19 in January 2022. That’s a 7.6-percent increase.

By the fourth year of the contract, those drivers will be paid $25.69 an hour, which is a 30.5-percent increase over their current wage.

New BT general manager John Connell, who took over from retiring Lew May at the start of the month, told the board, “One of the goals that we set out was to establish an increase in pay and benefits where we could be in a position to offer careers, not jobs. And I think this contract does that.”

Connell continued, “It’s a four-year term. And in the fourth year, our wages will be very competitive.”

He added, “We’re hoping to see some improvements in our recruiting efforts.” Due to a driver shortage, BT is currently making just about 70 percent of the runs that it would normally make this time of year, Connell said at Tuesday’s board meeting. Continue reading “Careers, not jobs: Bloomington Transit GM describes new bus driver contract”

Bloomington public buses skipping scheduled runs due to driver shortage

On Monday morning, Bloomington Transit’s Twitter feed announced that service along the Route 6 Limited and the Route 9 Limited would be cut during specific times during the day.

A tweet sent at 8:02 a.m. said, “There will be no 6 Limited this morning and no 9 Limited this evening. Sorry for any inconvenience.”

The first tweet was followed by another one at 8:26 a.m. clarifying the times when those routes would be curtailed: “The 6 Limited will resume at 1:10 today. 9 Limited will end at 2:30.”

BT has confirmed to The B Square the connection between the skipped routes on Monday and BT’s current driver shortage.

Based on discussion at the BT board’s most recent meeting, Bloomington’s regular public bus staffing is short 12 drivers. Continue reading “Bloomington public buses skipping scheduled runs due to driver shortage”

Draft 2022 Bloomington Transit budget would bump pay by 3 percent, recruitment of drivers a worry

At just a smidgen over $15 million, Bloomington Transit’s preliminary budget for 2022 is about 3.7 percent more than last year’s approved total amount.

That’s the number that Bloomington Transit’s general manager Lew May presented to BT’s five-member board at its meeting last Tuesday.

Some of that increase is due to an increase in employee compensation. The preliminary budget is based on a 3-percent increase in wages. How much the increase actually turns out to be will depend on the outcome of negotiations with the drivers, who are represented by AFSCME Local 613.

Those negotiations will need to take place over the next few months, because BT’s labor agreement ends on Dec. 31, 2021.

The timing for the back-and-forth between BT and drivers will coincide broadly with BT’s transition from May’s leadership, who has served 22 years as general manager, to John Connell’s, who was the board’s pick last week to succeed May. Connell is now operations manager for the Greater Lafayette Public Transportation Corporation.

BT’s board will likely vote on the final budget at its August meeting. The budget will then be presented to Bloomington’s city council for review and approval, in a separate vote from the city’s own budget.

The collective bargaining agreement could be a factor in addressing BT’s current shortage of drivers. A June job fair attracted no new applicants to fill the 12 positions that BT is currently short. Continue reading “Draft 2022 Bloomington Transit budget would bump pay by 3 percent, recruitment of drivers a worry”

Bloomington public bus drivers needed, Route 8 could see “microtransit” pilot

Bloomington Transit (BT) has a critical need for more drivers in the fall, when Indiana University’s normal fall semester starts.

And fixed-route service on Route 8 could see a one-year experimental replacement in September—with a combination of service provided through BT by Uber and Lyft.

Those were two takeaways from the Bloomington Transit board’s Tuesday night meeting.

The topics mean some significant work for the board and staff in the coming months, in addition to items already on their plates.

The board will need to make a decision on replacing 20-year veteran general manager Lew May, whose retirement is anticipated for August of this year. And the current collective bargaining agreement with the bus drivers union goes just through the end of the year, so it needs to be re-negotiated.

The BT board’s in-person Tuesday meeting was held in a way that offered access via the Zoom video conferencing platform.

All five board members attended in person. From a tech perspective, the hybrid setup appeared to work glitch-free. Continue reading “Bloomington public bus drivers needed, Route 8 could see “microtransit” pilot”

Bloomington Transit back to charging bus fares on July 1, passengers to board at front

On July 1, Bloomington Transit (BT) buses will resume collecting the standard $1 fare for fixed-route bus rides.

The BT board’s vote to resume fare collection, after operating fare-free for over a year, came at its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday.

The board also voted to open the downtown transit center to the public starting June 1.

The facility had been closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fare collection had also been suspended over a year ago, early in the pandemic.

The resumption of fare collection means that passengers will need to board buses through the front door where the fareboxes are located. They had been allowed to board through the rear doors, in order to reduce the chance of COVID-19 transmission between drivers and passengers. Continue reading “Bloomington Transit back to charging bus fares on July 1, passengers to board at front”

Opinion: Fare-free public buses in Bloomington deserve a conversation right now

Bloomington’s public buses have been operating fare-free since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the pandemic appears to be waning, now is a perfect time to contemplate a permanent fare-free policy for BT buses.

It was over a year ago when Bloomington Transit’s five-member board made the decision to stop collecting fares from passengers as they get on the bus. The decision related to rear-door boarding protocols for pandemic prevention. Fareboxes are located by the front door.

Since then, the BT board has been voting at its regular meetings to approve the extension of the fare-free policy, one month at a time.

At the March board meeting, board member Doug Horn said he is reluctant to continue voting not to collect fares every month, as the board has been doing.

On the board’s Tuesday’s agenda is an item that would, among other things, extend the fare-free policy though May 18.

Based on Horn’s request in March—that BT staff prepare some fare data analysis—the item could get some lively discussion on Tuesday.

I hope the conversation is both lively and productive. Continue reading “Opinion: Fare-free public buses in Bloomington deserve a conversation right now”

Pandemic puts new bus route optimization plan on hold, with possible stopgap alternative for service to new hospital

Bloomington Transit’s new route optimization plan now seems like a long shot to be implemented before the end of the year. That’s based on discussion by BT board members with general manager Lew May at their monthly meeting on Tuesday.

The route optimization plan, with increased frequency on some routes, and some service specifically set up for the new IU Health hospital on SR-46, was originally slated to be rolled out in fall 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed that timeframe. It’s not clear when a date for the plan’s implementation might be dialed in. Based on Tuesday’s board discussion with May, about six months of lead time will be needed to put all the pieces in place after a timing decision is made. The pieces include hiring 8 to 12 new drivers and educating the public about the new routes.

It points to a longer-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Bloomington’s public bus system. In the short term, ridership has plummeted and continues to bump along at a fraction of pre-pandemic levels. Continue reading “Pandemic puts new bus route optimization plan on hold, with possible stopgap alternative for service to new hospital”

Monroe County GOP chair names appointment to public bus board, 90-days after term expiration with no action by Bloomington city council

In a press release issued Thursday, Monroe County Republican Party chair William Ellis announced he has named Doug Horn to the five-member board of Bloomington Transit (BT), the local public transportation corporation.

A Bloomington Transit bus waits at the downtown transit center on Nov. 17, 2020. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

Horn is a Bloomington businessman and former Monroe County plan commissioner.

It’s not the usual way appointments are made to the BT board, and might be disputed by Bloomington’s city council.

Under state statute, the seat to which Ellis has named Horn is supposed to be appointed by the Bloomington city council.

Continue reading “Monroe County GOP chair names appointment to public bus board, 90-days after term expiration with no action by Bloomington city council”