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Bloomington Council Agrees To Wait For Transit Working Group

Connect Transit bus
Connect Transit
City Council members have approved a resolution that contemplates increasing payments to Connect Transit to fend off a fare increase for Connect Mobility.

The Bloomington City Council has passed a wait-and-see resolution concerning Connect Transit and the recent public campaign to undo a route cut and fare increases.

The resolution expressed support for a working group set up by the Connect Transit board. That body is looking at the future of the bus system and its funding. The panel will report back in the fall.

Council member Jeff Crabill tried to insert a substitute resolution. That failed. Some council members said it came with short notice. Others said it sounded too much like an intergovernmental agreement and the Town of Normal hadn't had a chance to weigh in.

Crabill said he's OK with that because the resolution that did pass asked for a focus on the system as a whole to make sure the mission of Connect Transit is being followed.

"That we focus on both ridership and coverage; coverage meaning people that are dependent on transit whether they are able bodied or paratransit," said Crabill.

Connect Transit Resolution - Bloomington City Council by Ryan Denham on Scribd

The resolution also called for exploring ways to offset fare increases if the working group concludes fare hikes and route cuts are warranted.

City Manager Tim Gleason said in the case of Connect Mobility, which serves those with disabilities, that amounts to an extra $30,000 per year.

"If the working group also agreed with original budget submission by the Connect Transit group to increase the fares, I've got a council that believes it's a relatively low cost that we could add to the amount we contributed to hold the Connect Mobility fare increase," said Gleason.

Bloomington already supports Connect Transit with about $1.2 million per year. Most bus systems have their own taxing authority and are not as dependent on municipalities, according to Connect Transit representative statements made over a period of decades.

Connect Transit has proposed a change to the Pink route, which will add stops in the Orlando Avenue area in Normal. The six month use-experiment will offset the loss of the Olive route. That matter is on the Connect Transit board meeting agenda Tuesday.

Yet Bloomington Council members such as Kim Bray said they might want a closer look in the future by renegotiating the intergovernmental agreement that created the board and determines what it can decide to do.

"Significant changes, whether or not, a fare increase, for instance, of the nature of what we have seen here would be considered a 'significant' increase requiring council approval from both bodies in order to take effect," said Bray.

Gleason said he's not sure if there is a norm for how closely municipalities oversee transit boards and what they allow them to do on their own. But certainly revisiting the intergovernmental agreement (IGA), he said, is in order.

"That's something that should be done yearly, you know, where you revisit and if you see things that shouldn't be a part of that IGA, you need to update," said Gleason.

Though the heated debate over Connect Transit board decisions is showing signs of abating for a few months at least, Gleason said there's an upside to the controversy.

"Because even if we find that some of the complaints weren't warranted, really an output of this is how can we improve the service that we currently provide, one. And then two, what do we believe our transit system for Bloomington-Normal should look like," said Gleason.

Connect Transit will soon give the Bloomington Council a presentation much like the one given last week to the Normal Town Council unpacking data that lead the board to approve fare increases and route changes.

As a matter of disclosure, Connect Transit Board Chair Mike McCurdy is also the GLT program director.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.