The group tasked with generating a plan to address a funding gap that could render Connect Transit insolvent by 2026 has concluded its work.
Connect to the Future Working Group members on Sunday unanimously approved the group’s recommendations to the Connect Transit Board of Trustees.
Connect Transit Trustee and Co-chair Julie Hile said that a diverse group of community representatives could come to agreement is a testament to the strength of the group’s recommendations.
“When do you get consensus on anything these days?” she said. “This is the community I have always believed we are. And so for us to have come through some very rigorous disagreement, back to a balanced level and mutually supportive place is, that’s the community I want to be in.”
Connect Transit Trustee and Co-chair Judy Buchanan thanked members for their work, which Hile estimated to be hundreds of hours since the group first convened in June 2019.
“We have accomplished something significant on two pages, and it’s realistic,” Buchanan said.
Apart from tweaking some language for clarity, the working group made one significant change between its last meeting Jan. 22 and adopting the recommendations Sunday.
The group now recommends the board not only cap the monthly unlimited pass for all Connect Mobility and fixed route riders at $40, but also cap total one-way fixed route spending at $40 a month.
Hile said she added the change after a conversation with Connect Transit General Manager Isaac Thorne following last week’s meeting.
“Isaac had noted that we had stepped back on a fare-capping option for some of our low-income riders, and he strongly advised that we return that fare-cap option,” she said.
Thorne said the change addresses a reality for the system’s low-income and minimum-wage earning riders.
“They cannot afford a monthly pass, the upfront cost all at once, so if it’s $40, they can’t afford that all at once,” he said. “So what they end up doing is spending $1.25 or $1 every single time they get on board and put that in the fare box, and they end up spending more on transportation, sometimes $60 or $70 a month.”
Under the group’s final recommendation, these riders would pay the fixed route one-way fare (recommended to be increased from $1 to $1.25) until they’d spent $40 that month.
“Once they get to that $40, they have unlimited rides for the rest of the month,” Thorne said.
The recommendations also call for the Town of Normal and City of Bloomington to contribute an additional combined annual $500,000 to Connect Transit.
Thorne said the board will consider adopting the recommendations at a special meeting to be held in mid-February.
With approval from the board, Connect Transit staff would then present the recommendations to the Normal and Bloomington councils.
The document will be made available on the agency’s website.