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Connect Transit Accused Of 'Sham' Hearings Before Fare Hikes

People at the public hearing
Eric Stock
Nearly 50 people spoke at a Connect Transit public hearing at Uptown Station in Normal Tuesday, while Normal Township Supervisor Sarah Grammer contends the agency's board wasn't provided the full scope of the opposition to proposed fare hikes.

A critic of Connect Transit's recently approved fare hikes and route changes claims the transportation agency deliberately ignored public feedback by not sharing it with the agency’s voting board.

The agency’s board chairman contends staff went “above and beyond” sharing information and said it wouldn’t have changed the vote.

Read Thursday's communications between Normal Township Supervisor Sarah Grammer and Connect Transit Board Chair Mike McCurdy:

Connect Transit Emails - March 28, 2019 by Ryan Denham on Scribd

Normal Township Supervisor Sarah Grammer said she attended several listening sessions that Connect Transit set up in the weeks before the vote, but Connect Transit staff which attended didn’t appear to take notes.

Connect Transit’s Board of Trustees voted 5-1 Tuesday to implement new a new rate structure, which includes higher fees and elimination of its 30-day pass for Connect Mobility, its on-demand service for those with disabilities. The board delayed implementing the new fares until Oct. 1 to give the agency more time to seek additional revenue sources that could allow it to scale back the higher fares.

The board also voted 5-1 to approve several route changes, including eliminating the Olive route, which runs from Orlando Avenue and Northbrook Estates in west Normal to the Fort Jesse and Hershey roads.

More than 20 residents, including Grammer, addressed the board at a public hearing Tuesday to voice their opposition to the fare hikes and route changes.

Grammer said about 40 emails the public sent to the Connect Transit board went only to staff, and the board which enacted the changes never saw them.

“I know that 40 emails from the community is a lot,” Grammer said. “That’s a lot of people’s time. That’s a high level of concern over an issue.

“To think that that effort was put forth and not seen by the board ahead of such an important vote, it really concerns me,” said Grammer.

Grammer said many riders who rely on the transportation service spent their own time and money to get to these meetings and their voices were never heard by those who were voting on the changes.

She suggested staff could have at least summarized the views of those who spoke at the listening sessions but were unable to attend the final public hearing.

“It felt like a sham,” Grammer declared. “A lot of us felt like our time attending those meetings and even the hearing was wasted.”

Grammer is calling on the Connect Transit Board of Trustees to schedule an additional hearing and a new vote on the proposals. In a second email Thursday afternoon, Grammer called for the Bloomington and Normal councils to "to recall the entire Connect Transit board."

"If the current board won’t listen to the community, it’s time to make room at the table for board members who will work to build a more accessible and affordable public transportation system for those who need it," Grammer wrote.

Transit Chair's Response

Connect Transit Board Chairman Mike McCurdy responded to Grammer and the media by email, saying General Manager Isaac Thorne assured him the failure to forward the emails to the board was an oversight.

“I believe him,” McCurdy said. “He thinks, and I agree, that the vote would have been the same.” He added several trustees he spoke with assured they still would have voted in favor of both proposals.

McCurdy added staff provided “multiple updates” from staff, including sharing comment cards from 14 engagement sessions.

“The Connect Transit staff went above and beyond requirements to collect information from the community and forward that information to trustees,” McCurdy replied. 

In a second email reply, McCurdy said more route changes are imminent unless "significant funds are found" by the 2023 budget year. 

"When you are ready to seriously discuss transit in our community - even the system's email practices, but particularly your ideas about how to sustainably fund it and your agency's ability to help financially - let me know," he wrote. 

Editor's note: Connect Transit Board Chairman Mike McCurdy is GLT's program director.

People like you value experienced, knowledgeable and award-winning journalism that covers meaningful stories in Bloomington-Normal. To support more stories and interviews like this one, please consider making a contribution.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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