Following a public work session Saturday morning, Connect Transit's board has a better idea of what its new Connect to the Future working group should look like and what issues it should tackle.
Board Trustee Judy Buchanan will chair the working group once it gets started. She explained the purpose of Saturday's work session was to put those questions to a representative cross-section of the community.
About 25 people attended the meeting at the Normal Public Library, including local elected officials, Connect Transit and Connect mobility riders, disability advocates and nonprofit leaders.
Together the group developed a list of criteria for selecting the working group members, including fixed-route riders and Connect Mobility riders; bus drivers; someone familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act; seniors and students; residents of different neighborhoods; and individuals of varying income levels.
They also asked questions ranging from how the agency is funded to how its Medicaid reimbursement program for Connect Mobility riders works.
Some questions didn’t have clear answers, like Normal Town Council member Stan Nord’s question about who the agency considers its highest priority demographics: “Who are we trying to help first?”
Facilitator and Board Trustee Julie Hile said its those kinds of questions that are most helpful for the board to hear, “Because that is going to help us get this working group going.”
Other questions, Hile said, were not so helpful, like when the discussion turned back to concerns over the elimination of the Olive route and scheduled fare increases.
“Does this group have anything to do with input on the Olive route, or is it going to be discontinued no matter what this working group decides?” Mary Wuhrmann asked during the meeting, attending as an advocate for Connect Mobility riders. “Because there’s been lots of protest about it, but apparently this is not going to do anything about the route or the fare increase.”
“I can’t say never, but both of those decisions have already been made by the board,” Buchanan responded. “We have a whole picture to look at, part of it being the Olive, part of it being the fares, part of it being how do we maximize the limited dollars we have, and that all figures into the decisions the board has to make.”
“We don’t want to go back and re-litigate those decisions,” Hile added.
Following the meeting, Hile said there is a greater discussion to be had.
“If we are talking about a sustainable system for all riders, those questions are embedded in a much more ambitious conversation,” she said. “And I think that there’s a real sense of urgency for all of us. So I find the conversation about how to meet our riders’ needs beyond what we have currently imagined ... I find that a much more honorable and exciting possibility.”
To help spark the conversation, Hile asked the group to share their “moonshots”—“dreams that you might have about the best transit system, the best mobility platform down the road,” as she explained.
More Diversity on Board?
Aleda Diggins said she’d like to see the agency hire a new administrative professional to work with the riders who depend on the service.
“In other words, someone who is very familiar with the ADA, the needs of people who are elderly, people who are on the outskirts of town and may have a hard time getting to it," she said.
Normal Town Council member Karyn Smith said she’d like to see snow cleared from the sidewalks along all fixed bus routes, as well as express bus routes to and from all the community’s major employers.
Fixed-route rider Shannon said she wants a Connect Transit board that’s more representative of the community.
“There’s not a person of color, they’re all about the same age, older established professionals, and I don’t believe those people ride the bus,” she said.
Her mother Deborah said she wants to see Connect Transit become a public taxing body.
“I mean if I’m paying for sewers and I’m paying for everything else, it might be a more stabilizing thing, and then we’d get better routes," she said.
Overall, Hile said the meeting went just as well as she’d hoped it would.
“I really am very impressed with the depth of thinking that some of the people who took time on a Mother’s Day weekend to spend two hours with us are doing,” she said. “Some of the moonshots that people were talking about are absolutely in corollary with things that we have dreamed of as well.”
Buchanan said Connect Transit will make Connect Mobility buses available to those working group members who need transportation to and from working group meetings.
Hile said the group will consist of 15 members, with nine members at large, including one member each from Illinois State University and Heartland Community College, and two members representing Connect Transit. The mayors of the Town of Normal and the City of Bloomington will each appoint a member to the working group.
The work group meetings will be open to the public, with time for public comment.
Hile said she anticipates having a list of working group members for the board to approve at its next meeting, 4:30 p.m. May 28 at 351 Wylie Dr., Normal.
Following board approval, the group will begin meeting in June, with exact dates and times to come.
Editor's note: Connect Transit's board chairman, Mike McCurdy, is also GLT's program director.
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