Data notebook: Bloomington’s electric scooter ridership at 70 percent of pre-pandemic levels

Measured by scooter rides, life in Bloomington has not yet returned to the pre-pandemic norms.

Numbers available through the city’s B Clear platform show that for August and September of 2021, a total of 106,083 rides were taken on a shared electric scooter, which is 69 percent of the 154,486 rides taken during the same period in 2019. Continue reading “Data notebook: Bloomington’s electric scooter ridership at 70 percent of pre-pandemic levels”

Bloomington Transit OKs side letter with drivers union: Pay bump, $1,000 essential-worker bonus

At its Tuesday meeting, the five-member Bloomington Transit board voted to approve a side letter agreement with AFSCME Local 613, which is the drivers union.

The agreement is hoped to aid recruitment of new drivers—BT is currently short by about a dozen. The agreement is also hoped to reduce a recent spate of cancelled bus runs, chronicled on BT’s Twitter account, due to lack of drivers on the overtime list.

The side letter increases starting pay for drivers by $2 an hour—from $16.32 to $18.32—and gives those with more experience a $1,000 essential-worker bonus.

The context of the phrase “essential worker” connects to the COVID-19 pandemic. Drivers were still expected to keep the buses running, even though the number of service hours was reduced.

To cover the cost of the essential-worker bonus, BT will use money it received through the federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act.

The side letter approved by the board also requires at least 12 drivers to sign up for the overtime list. The letter also clarifies the wording of the existing collective bargaining agreement (CBA) about how overtime can be mandated and the right to refuse a withdrawal from the overtime list.

The side letter is still contingent on a vote of the union membership. Continue reading “Bloomington Transit OKs side letter with drivers union: Pay bump, $1,000 essential-worker bonus”

$3K incentive for new Bloomington bus drivers, as ridership creeps upward from pandemic lows

Bloomington’s public bus system is about 10 drivers short of the number needed to ramp service back up to meet the needs of Indiana University students and affiliates in a post-COVID-19 climate.

“For us to be able to restore the full level of service to the IU campus, we would need to hire about 10 drivers,” Bloomington Transit general manager Lew May told the board at its monthly meeting on Tuesday.

Indiana University is resuming in-person classes in the fall.

May laid out the urgency of the hiring situation: “We’ve got about four months to go, to make those hires.”

To help with the hiring effort, at Tuesday’s meeting, BT’s board approved a series of incentives.

Incentives include: increasing the employee referral incentive from $1,000 to $3,000; implementing a new employee hiring incentive of $3,000; a $100 incentive for getting a COVID-19 vaccination.

BT is also planning to host an on-site job fair in mid-May where applicants could be interviewed on the spot. Continue reading “$3K incentive for new Bloomington bus drivers, as ridership creeps upward from pandemic lows”

Bloomington Transit mulls ending pandemic-based fare-free rides

At Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Bloomington Transit (BT) board, the continuation of COVID-19 protocols, including fare-free, rear-door boarding for all bus passengers, was confirmed for another month.

It could be the last time the board votes to approve the protocols, without a date for resumption of regular service.

Board members are looking towards a resumption of regular operations by the fall. That’s when Indiana University has announced in-person classes will resume.

About 70 percent of BT’s normal, non-pandemic ridership comes from IU affiliates—students, staff and faculty. They don’t pay a fare when they board, because their rides are covered under an agreement between IU and BT.

The BT board’s next monthly meeting, in April, will include an agenda item to consider the formal question of resuming fare collection, effective as early as June 1.

The board’s decision not to collect fares—made early in the pandemic—was based on the goal of limiting the opportunity for driver-passenger COVID-19 disease spread, by allowing passengers to board through the bus rear doors. Fare boxes are located next to the driver’s seat at the front door of the buses.

On Tuesday, BT general manager Lew May reported to the board that the drivers union recommends resumption of fare collection as soon as possible.

About the union’s recommendation, May said, “They have noticed over the past year, a marked increase in the homeless population that has been using the bus as a place of refuge. And, and in some cases, they have caused some difficulty for us.”

How will the resumption of public bus fare collection affect the population of people who are experiencing homelessness, and organizations who serve them?

According to Beacon, Inc. executive director Forrest Gilmore, during non-pandemic times, the nonprofit spends about $500 a month on 50-percent discounted bus fares for its clients. That translates into 1,000 rides a month. That’s an expense that Beacon, Inc. has been able to save during the pandemic.

Back-and-forth between May and board members drew out some of the different motivations for resumption of front-door passenger boarding and fare collection. Continue reading “Bloomington Transit mulls ending pandemic-based fare-free rides”

Bloomington public buses continue to roll at 21-percent ridership under COVID-19 conditions, board OKs deal with Trinitas development

At its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, the board of Bloomington Transit handled routine business, like receiving a financial report from its controller.

The five-member group also handled another item that has become routine business for the board: an extension of its COVID-19 protocols for another month—through Dec. 15.

The board also approved a deal with Trinitas Ventures, the developer of a roughly 1,000-bedroom project oriented in large part towards students, to provide transit service to the West 17th and Arlington Road area on the west side of town.

The deal with Trinitas was a requirement for the city council’s approval of the zoning for the project. The first year of service will cost $359,000. Construction on that project is expected to start as soon as the real estate deal closes, which is early December, based on remarks from Jeff Kanable of Trinitas, made to the BT board at Tuesday’s meeting.

The board also approved its Federal Transit Administration safety plan on just a 3–2 vote, with dissent from Alex Cartwright and James McLary. The plan did not appear to be controversial, but Cartwright and McLary wanted better clarity about how the definition of “safety event” that’s used by the feds squares up with BT’s statistics.

In another piece of business handled on Tuesday, the BT board approved an extension with the company that sells advertising on its bus wraps. BT splits the revenue 50-50 with Mesmerize, formerly Clean Zone Marketing. That stands at about $175,000 annually, according to BT general manager Lew May at the meeting. That’s about a six-fold increase since 2015, when BT started doing business with Mesmerize, he said.

The extension of COVID-19 protocols for BT means continued fare-free boarding for all passengers and a closure of the indoor passenger waiting area of the downtown transit center. The Grimes Lanes administration building will also remain closed to the public. Designated administrative management and employees will continue to work remotely. Continue reading “Bloomington public buses continue to roll at 21-percent ridership under COVID-19 conditions, board OKs deal with Trinitas development”

Ridership still down on Bloomington public buses, fare-free rides continue, new agreement reached with IU, second driver tests positive for COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is still causing ridership on Bloomington Transit buses to slump compared to normal levels, even if the month-to-month numbers have shown increases starting in May.

The return to campus of Indiana University students in August has increased numbers a bit, but the historical September spike is not evident on this year’s chart. That’s because the local travel needs of students have diminished due to the prevalence of classes offered online.

The reduced ridership means BT has reduced its service hours on routes that primarily serve campus locations—Routes 6, 7, and 9. That has led BT and IU to renegotiate the agreement under which university affiliates can board buses without paying a fare. The renegotiation reduced the payment to around 70 percent of the historical number.

At their Tuesday meeting, BT board members voted to continue BT’s COVID-19 protocols another month, which includes allowing all riders to board buses without paying a fare.

On Wednesday the city issued a press release announcing that a second BT bus driver has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. The first driver tested positive on Aug. 3. According to Wednesday’s press release, an internal contact tracing process determined that there were no other employees or customers placed at risk of exposure by the driver. They drove on Routes 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 9 from Oct. 3 to Oct. 17, according to the release. Continue reading “Ridership still down on Bloomington public buses, fare-free rides continue, new agreement reached with IU, second driver tests positive for COVID-19”

COVID-19 means continued lower ridership, fare-free policy for Bloomington public buses

On Tuesday, at its regular monthly meeting, the Bloomington Transit board approved an extension of BT’s fare-free policy through Oct. 20.

The fare-free policy started in March, along with rear-door boarding, as a way to reduce passenger-driver interactions and help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The regular fare is $1 a ride.

Passengers can now board through the front door. A plexiglass partition on a hinge has been installed in buses to form a kind of compartment for the drivers, to reduce the chance of COVID-19 transmission.

Also on Tuesday, the latest numbers reported to the Bloomington Transit (BT) board showed the COVID-19 pandemic’s continued impact on ridership. The lower-ridership trend that started just after Indiana University’s spring break in March has continued through the start of classes this fall.

Ridership has shown incremental gains from month to month since April. But the typical big bump in August is absent this year. Bloomington’s public transit ridership in normal years is roughly 70 percent Indiana University affiliates.

In August this year, about 64,000 rides were taken, compared to 199,000 a year ago. Over the last four months, about one-third the number of rides have been taken on fixed-route buses compared to last year. Continue reading “COVID-19 means continued lower ridership, fare-free policy for Bloomington public buses”

Bloomington Transit board likely to put off decision on new routes, delay implementation until January 2021

At its next scheduled board meeting on April 21, the Bloomington Transit (BT) board is likely to postpone a decision on new routes for the public transit agency, which were originally planned for implementation in August of this year.

The staff’s recommended postponement is based on the impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The reason was described in a Friday email message to transit advocates from Zac Huneck, BT’s planning and special projects manager: “We believe introducing major service changes would add an unnecessary burden to our already strained operations.”

Heck’s email message said staff are looking at January 2021 for starting service on the newly designed routes, which are meant to increase ridership by increasing frequency and on-time performance, while maintaining about the same number of service hours. Continue reading “Bloomington Transit board likely to put off decision on new routes, delay implementation until January 2021”

Bus ridership up 1.75% over last year as transit board mulls tweaks to proposed new routes, how to court Bloomington city council on key policy changes

cropped 2020-01-21 bt board meeting IMG_6208
At their Tuesday night meeting, the Bloomington Transit board gets a walk-through from general manager Lew May (blue shirt) of staff-recommended adjustments to a system of route re-configurations that came out of a consultant’s study. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

Tuesday’s regular monthly meeting of the Bloomington Transit (BT) board delivered a bright spot of news. The 3.16 million rides taken on fixed route buses in 2019 reflect a 1.75-percent increase over the total from 2018.

As BT general manager Lew May noted, it’s the first year-to-year increase since 2014, after four straight years of decreases. Continue reading “Bus ridership up 1.75% over last year as transit board mulls tweaks to proposed new routes, how to court Bloomington city council on key policy changes”

Bloomington Transit wants more feedback on new routes, with eye towards adjustments to proposed new plan at Jan. 21 board meeting

A revised version of a proposed new route configuration for public buses in the city will be presented to the transit board at its next meeting on Jan. 21, Bloomington Transit announced last Thursday.
Continue reading “Bloomington Transit wants more feedback on new routes, with eye towards adjustments to proposed new plan at Jan. 21 board meeting”