Connect Transit in Bloomington Normal is facing a problem, an aging fleet of busses and capital money tied up in operations because the state isn't paying its share. Isaac Thorne is the Interim General Manager for the bus system.
"The majority of our busses are 2004, 2005 busses. And we have eight 1998s. We hope we can replace six in 2018 which would bring us down to needing seventeen," said Thorne.
To get the money to buy new buses, Thorne says, Connect Transit may have to cut service. He said underperforming routes could be eliminated, though other measures are also possible.
"We may look at taking back some of the frequency we have on some of those outlying routes. That's one of the options we have. Before we actually make any cuts we may want to look at reducing the frequency in some of the routes that are out in the coverage areas," said Thorne.
The current situation is not just because of the state budget crisis. For the last seventeen years, the system has made short-term choices and put off some long-term needs. Thorne said for that period Connect Transit has used most of its federal grant money for operations instead of capital.
Now, with the state $4 million behind in payments, the system faces increasing pressure.
The board is going through a strategic planning process and will ask for public feedback after it makes decisions in May. He said the board could decide to kick the can down the road another year or two, but, the time is coming soon when that won't be an option.
Connect Transit will also apply for federal capital grants for transit systems. Those applications are not out yet, though they usually are by this time of year. Thorne said it is unclear when the federal government would make those awards in an extremely competitive program.
The state is two quarters behind in paying Connect Transit support totaling four million dollars.