Countywide authority for Bloomington Transit OK’d by city council, without Rural Transit in the room

At its regular Wednesday meeting, Bloomington’s city council changed local law to give Bloomington Transit authority to operate anywhere in Monroe County.

That city council decision meant a rejection of the approach advocated by the board of the Area 10 Agency on Aging, which operates Rural Transit, also a public transportation agency. Rural Transit provides service in Monroe County as well as three other counties—Putnam, Owen, and Lawrence.

Rural Transit wanted the city council to allow Bloomington  Transit to expand service outside of the city limits—but only to include all of Monroe County’s “urban area.” The “urban area” is defined by the US Census and used by the Federal Transportation Administration to allocate funding.

Allowing Bloomington Transit to operate anywhere inside Monroe County, sets up a scenario where any ride provided by Rural Transit could also be provided by Bloomington Transit.

But on Wednesday, BT general manager John Connell told the city council that BT is not interested in trying to supplant any of the rural-to-urban and urban-to-rural service that Rural Transit can still legally provide.

In a resolution dated July 28, 2023, the Area 10 board expressed support for the expansion of Bloomington Transit’s service outside the city limits of Bloomington, but only to include the additional “urban area.”

In an email dated July 29, 2023, Area 10 executive director Chris Myers sent a copy of the board’s resolution to all city councilmembers.

Responding to a question from The B Square after the council’s Wednesday meeting, Myers indicated that she did not receive a reply to her email message from any city councilmember. She did not attend Wednesday’s meeting. Myers indicated she had not been notified that the council would that night be taking up the ordinance changing BT’s service area.

Attending the meeting on behalf of Bloomington Transit were general manager John Connell as well as board members Doug Horn and James McClary. Continue reading “Countywide authority for Bloomington Transit OK’d by city council, without Rural Transit in the room”

Public bus notebook: ‘Dumb’ fare boxes could be in Bloomington Transit’s future

When passengers pay cash for the $1 fare in order to board one of Bloomington Transit’s 42 fixed-route buses, they put the money into a CENTSaBILL farebox.

The chart shows the number of trips taken on fixed-route buses, which does not include BT Access, which is the paratransit service.

The farebox counts the coins or validates the dollar bill, which makes it in some sense “smart.”

But the current fareboxes are obsolete and no longer supported. One of the basic approaches to fare collection now being considered by BT is to use “dumb fareboxes”—which would serve as a receptacle for the money, but wouldn’t validate the amount.

The new “mobile ticketing” approach would focus  technology on validating passes and providing passengers with some additional options for buying tickets and passes.

BT’s five-member board voted unanimously at its Tuesday meeting last week, to ask Left Turn Right Turn, which is BT’s fare collection consultant, to forge ahead with development of a request for proposals from vendors in the mobile ticketing market.

If the BT board eventually awards a contract to a mobile ticketing vendor, that would mean passengers dropping cash fares into a “dumb” farebox.

The board’s vote came after a presentation from Left Turn Right Turn’s Yuval Grinspun, and Philippe Gervaise with Niti Systems Consultants, who joined the BT board meeting on a Zoom video conferencing interface. Continue reading “Public bus notebook: ‘Dumb’ fare boxes could be in Bloomington Transit’s future”

Passengers thank Bloomington public bus driver Donny Reynolds as he wraps up 43 years of service

On Friday morning, driver Donny Reynolds was posted outside the Route #5 bus at Bloomington’s downtown transit center, greeting a couple of passengers as they boarded.

“Good morning and watch your step—it’s dark in there right now!”

Reynolds flipped on the inside lights as soon as he slid into the driver’s seat. He was starting the first run of his final day driving a public bus in Bloomington.

His first day at the wheel of a Bloomington public bus came 43 years ago on June 2, 1979. At that time, the bus service was provided through a city department, before the Bloomington Public Transportation Corporation was established.

On the morning’s first run for Route #5, at a stop along Atwater Avenue, a couple of Jackson Creek Middle School students boarded. “Good morning, ladies!” came the cheery greeting from Reynolds. Continue reading “Passengers thank Bloomington public bus driver Donny Reynolds as he wraps up 43 years of service”

Public bus notebook: BT to work with Go Bloomington on guaranteed rides home

Bloomington Transit’s five-member board has approved in concept the idea that the Go Bloomington program will tap into BT’s existing arrangements with Uber and Lyft, to give program participants a guaranteed ride home.

Through October, Bloomington Transit fixed route ridership continues to show gains over last year, but still well under pre-pandemic numbers.

Go Bloomington  is the branding that’s been adopted for the city’s transportation demand management program. The idea is to help participants find other ways to get to work, besides driving a car by themselves.

The idea behind a “guaranteed ride home” feature is that someone might be more inclined to take the public bus, bicycle, or walk to work—if they know that they have a backstop for any unexpected transportation need.

If someone’s day unfolds in an unexpected way, they’ll be able to use a voucher with Uber or Lyft to handle whatever scenario has come up.

What the BT board approved at last Tuesday’s monthly meeting was a motion to authorize BT general manager John Connell to develop the interlocal agreement that’s needed, in order to make sure that BT gets reimbursed by Go Bloomington for the cost of the rides. Continue reading “Public bus notebook: BT to work with Go Bloomington on guaranteed rides home”

Transit board wants attorney’s advice on legal requirements for service outside Bloomington

Bloomington Transit’s five-member board wants general manager John Connell to get legal advice on a specific question about the steps, if any, that need to be taken so that public bus service can be offered outside Bloomington’s city limits.

That was the outcome of a half hour’s worth of discussion at the BT board’s regular monthly meeting on Tuesday.

The board’s discussion came after Bloomington’s city council approved an early-September resolution  expressing its support for extending BT’s service to Daniels Way, which is west of the city limits. Service to Daniels Way could serve Ivy Tech and Cook Medical, among other destinations.

At its September meeting, the BT board had already discussed the legal significance of the city council’s resolution. Their immediate concern was to determine if the resolution was an adequate legal basis for extending service outside the city limits. It wasn’t.

That was confirmed by BT’s outside counsel, which is The Rothberg Law Firm. In a memo to the BT board, Connell quoted the Rothberg attorney who worked on the question: “[T]he city council resolution is nothing more than a statement of support.” Continue reading “Transit board wants attorney’s advice on legal requirements for service outside Bloomington”

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”

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”

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”