A revised version of a proposed new route configuration for public buses in the city will be presented to the transit board at its next meeting on Jan. 21, Bloomington Transit announced last Thursday.
That comes after BT’s staff presented the route optimization proposal in a series of public meetings that started in late October and lasted through early December. In the meantime, Bloomington’s public transit agency has extended the time to respond to its online survey about the proposal until Jan. 19.
A Thursday statement from BT’s planning and special projects manager, Zac Huneck, said, “We are discussing adjustments that can be incorporated into the proposed service changes based on the comments we’ve received. We’ll be discussing those adjustments with our board in the next few months and seeking direction from the board on next steps.”
The proposed new route configuration, with any adjustments and tweaks eventually decided by the board, is supposed to be implemented in August 2020.
What kind of tweak will the proposal to the board on Jan. 21 include? One example could be restored service on Route 5 to Kirkwood Avenue. That means the new Route 5 would continue the service that the corresponding route currently provides to the Monroe County Public Library.
Maintaining direct service to the library is the kind of change that could be made relatively easily, BT’s general manager, Lew May, told the dozen people who attended the Nov. 12 public meeting, which was held at the library.
That specific change is also mentioned in answers to a list of “frequently asked questions” that BT released on Thursday: “We understand that some people want to go to Kirkwood and would rather not walk the additional two blocks. Thus we are considering keeping Route 5 on Kirkwood.”
The impetus for the changes is not to save money. According to BT, the proposal is revenue neutral, offering about the same number of service hours a year: 94,593 now compared to 94,836 in the proposed configuration.
As part of a panel held by the Bloomington Area Chamber of Commerce on Nov. 1, Monroe County councilor Geoff McKim outlined ways the current local income tax could be increased to generate additional revenue to support local public transit. (McKim said he was not necessarily advocating for any of the mechanisms he described.)
What BT wants to achieve with the proposed new route configuration is to improve its on-time performance and increase ridership. Increased traffic congestion is cited by BT as one reason its current on-time performance does not meet its expectations.
A change like routing a bus two blocks north to drop passengers directly at the library can be made without impacting the rest of the proposed reconfiguration. But it probably won’t be as easy to restore evening service to six routes that are proposed to end service at 7 p.m., a few hours earlier than current routes.
The proposed new routes with reduced service hours, and their current geographic counterparts, are: Routes 1 (Route 1 North), 4 (Route 4 West), 5 (Route 5), 12 (Route 2 South), 14 (Route 4 West), 40 (Route 4 South).
A possibility BT has described for replacing the eliminated evening hour service is “microtransit.” It’s an Uber/Lyft style on-demand service that would include picking up other passengers along the way to a rider’s destination. BT has applied to the feds for a $650,000 operations grant to fund a one-year pilot microtransit program.
At the Nov. 12 meeting, May said BT had heard the message “loud and clear” that people would like to see later evening service continued. The reason May gave for the consultant’s recommendation to reduce evening hours is the low ridership at that time of day. In some cases, it’s single digits per service hour, May said.
Ridership per service hours is the metric used by BT and other transit agencies to gauge how productive a route is. According to statistics available through the National Transit Database, for the decade ending in 2017, BT averaged around 36 passengers per service hour.
One limitation to analysis of BT route performance is the fact that BT tracks ridership by combining the north-south and east-west route segments for each route. A conceptual change related to the proposed new configuration is a new numbering system. Routes that currently share the same number, as part of an east-west or north-south pair, will get separate numbers.
According to BT’s FAQ on the topic, 10 passengers per hour is the “typical low-end threshold of productivity” in the transit industry. At the Nov. 12 meeting, May pegged 20 to 25 passengers per service hour as a “sustainable” number.
Charted out by route for late evening hours, the picture that emerges for the combined branches for current routes, is that by 11 p.m. all routes dip under the 10-passengers-per-hour threshold. Routes 1, 4, and 5 go below that threshold by 9 p.m.