Monroe County GOP chair names appointment to public bus board, 90-days after term expiration with no action by Bloomington city council

In a press release issued Thursday, Monroe County Republican Party chair William Ellis announced he has named Doug Horn to the five-member board of Bloomington Transit (BT), the local public transportation corporation.

A Bloomington Transit bus waits at the downtown transit center on Nov. 17, 2020. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

Horn is a Bloomington businessman and former Monroe County plan commissioner.

It’s not the usual way appointments are made to the BT board, and might be disputed by Bloomington’s city council.

Under state statute, the seat to which Ellis has named Horn is supposed to be appointed by the Bloomington city council.

Continue reading “Monroe County GOP chair names appointment to public bus board, 90-days after term expiration with no action by Bloomington city council”

Bloomington city council committee sets group interviews for two public bus board appointments, excludes applicant who’s currently suing the city

Looking southeast at the corner of Walnut and 4th streets in downtown Bloomington at Bloomington Transit’s downtown transit center, on Nov. 18, 2020. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

Two seats on the five-member board of the Bloomington Transit board of directors have been listed as vacant on the city’s board and commission website since Aug. 1.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the city council’s four-member standing committee on transportation, they decided to use a couple of group interviews to consider just seven of eight applicants for the two vacant BT board positions.

Not in the mix for the committee’s group interviews will be Republican Andrew Guenther, who ran for the District 2 city council seat in 2019 that was won by Democrat Sue Sgambelluri.

Committee member Isabel Piedmont-Smith objected to the inclusion of Guenther, because he is currently a party to a lawsuit against the city of Bloomington over his appointment to a plan commission seat.

Supporting Piedmont-Smith’s position were the three other members of the committee: Steve Volan, Ron Smith, and chair Kate Rosenbarger.

The committee will make a recommendation to the city council, which will make a final decision. The city council appoints three of the five seats. The mayor appoints the other two.

The two incumbents for the seats on the BT board now listed as vacant are Nancy Obermeyer and Alex Cartwright. They will be part of the set of seven who are being invited to sign up for slots for the group interviews. At the same time the transportation committee met on Tuesday, Obermeyer and Cartwright were handling the business of the board at its regular monthly meeting.

Under the state statute on public transportation corporations, the BT board is required to be balanced for affiliation with political parties.

Obermeyer is a Democrat and Cartwright is a Republican, assuming that this June they both participated in the same party’s primary as in 2019. Participation in the most recent primary of a party is one way the state statute defines party affiliation. Continue reading “Bloomington city council committee sets group interviews for two public bus board appointments, excludes applicant who’s currently suing the city”

Bloomington public buses continue to roll at 21-percent ridership under COVID-19 conditions, board OKs deal with Trinitas development

At its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, the board of Bloomington Transit handled routine business, like receiving a financial report from its controller.

The five-member group also handled another item that has become routine business for the board: an extension of its COVID-19 protocols for another month—through Dec. 15.

The board also approved a deal with Trinitas Ventures, the developer of a roughly 1,000-bedroom project oriented in large part towards students, to provide transit service to the West 17th and Arlington Road area on the west side of town.

The deal with Trinitas was a requirement for the city council’s approval of the zoning for the project. The first year of service will cost $359,000. Construction on that project is expected to start as soon as the real estate deal closes, which is early December, based on remarks from Jeff Kanable of Trinitas, made to the BT board at Tuesday’s meeting.

The board also approved its Federal Transit Administration safety plan on just a 3–2 vote, with dissent from Alex Cartwright and James McLary. The plan did not appear to be controversial, but Cartwright and McLary wanted better clarity about how the definition of “safety event” that’s used by the feds squares up with BT’s statistics.

In another piece of business handled on Tuesday, the BT board approved an extension with the company that sells advertising on its bus wraps. BT splits the revenue 50-50 with Mesmerize, formerly Clean Zone Marketing. That stands at about $175,000 annually, according to BT general manager Lew May at the meeting. That’s about a six-fold increase since 2015, when BT started doing business with Mesmerize, he said.

The extension of COVID-19 protocols for BT means continued fare-free boarding for all passengers and a closure of the indoor passenger waiting area of the downtown transit center. The Grimes Lanes administration building will also remain closed to the public. Designated administrative management and employees will continue to work remotely. Continue reading “Bloomington public buses continue to roll at 21-percent ridership under COVID-19 conditions, board OKs deal with Trinitas development”

Ridership still down on Bloomington public buses, fare-free rides continue, new agreement reached with IU, second driver tests positive for COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is still causing ridership on Bloomington Transit buses to slump compared to normal levels, even if the month-to-month numbers have shown increases starting in May.

The return to campus of Indiana University students in August has increased numbers a bit, but the historical September spike is not evident on this year’s chart. That’s because the local travel needs of students have diminished due to the prevalence of classes offered online.

The reduced ridership means BT has reduced its service hours on routes that primarily serve campus locations—Routes 6, 7, and 9. That has led BT and IU to renegotiate the agreement under which university affiliates can board buses without paying a fare. The renegotiation reduced the payment to around 70 percent of the historical number.

At their Tuesday meeting, BT board members voted to continue BT’s COVID-19 protocols another month, which includes allowing all riders to board buses without paying a fare.

On Wednesday the city issued a press release announcing that a second BT bus driver has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. The first driver tested positive on Aug. 3. According to Wednesday’s press release, an internal contact tracing process determined that there were no other employees or customers placed at risk of exposure by the driver. They drove on Routes 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 9 from Oct. 3 to Oct. 17, according to the release. Continue reading “Ridership still down on Bloomington public buses, fare-free rides continue, new agreement reached with IU, second driver tests positive for COVID-19”

COVID-19 means continued lower ridership, fare-free policy for Bloomington public buses

On Tuesday, at its regular monthly meeting, the Bloomington Transit board approved an extension of BT’s fare-free policy through Oct. 20.

The fare-free policy started in March, along with rear-door boarding, as a way to reduce passenger-driver interactions and help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The regular fare is $1 a ride.

Passengers can now board through the front door. A plexiglass partition on a hinge has been installed in buses to form a kind of compartment for the drivers, to reduce the chance of COVID-19 transmission.

Also on Tuesday, the latest numbers reported to the Bloomington Transit (BT) board showed the COVID-19 pandemic’s continued impact on ridership. The lower-ridership trend that started just after Indiana University’s spring break in March has continued through the start of classes this fall.

Ridership has shown incremental gains from month to month since April. But the typical big bump in August is absent this year. Bloomington’s public transit ridership in normal years is roughly 70 percent Indiana University affiliates.

In August this year, about 64,000 rides were taken, compared to 199,000 a year ago. Over the last four months, about one-third the number of rides have been taken on fixed-route buses compared to last year. Continue reading “COVID-19 means continued lower ridership, fare-free policy for Bloomington public buses”

Bloomington’s public transit looks to COVID-19 recovery in 2021

On Wednesday night, Bloomington Transit general manager Lew May presented his 22nd annual budget to Bloomington’s city council.

It was a part of the four-day series of 2021 budget presentations heard by the council this week. The council won’t see a final version of the budget until late September and won’t take a vote on it until October.

A highlight of BT’s 2021 budget is the way it maintains a course set in 2020, for the acquisition of electric buses. Three more are budgeted for next year. They show up in the capital expenditure breakdown of the $14.5 million total budget.

The planned 2021 capital expenditures are $5.2 million, which is about 8 percent more than last year’s $4.8 million. Compared to 2019, the 2020 capital expense figure was nearly double. Continue reading “Bloomington’s public transit looks to COVID-19 recovery in 2021”

Bloomington public bus driver tests positive for COVID-19, BT still on course for closer-to-normal service on Aug. 24

In a press release issued late Monday afternoon, the city announced that a Bloomington Transit (BT) bus driver has tested positive for COVID-19.

croppped 2020-07-22 inside a bloomington transit bus IMG_5461
The caution tape separating drivers from passengers on Bloomington Transit buses will soon be replaced with plexiglass shields.

That’s the second BT employee who has tested positive for the pandemic disease. The first was a maintenance worker. Nine other city employees have also tested positive.

According to Monday’s release, the driver started having symptoms on Wednesday, July 29 and received the positive result on Saturday, Aug. 1. For Saturday, Monroe County’s total COVID-19 confirmed positive case count was 10.

The seven-day average daily case count in Monroe County has started to drop—it’s now around around 13, compared to 20 for the last week of July. The number of cases reported for Sunday was just 2, the lowest number since July 6, almost a month ago.

In July, the BT board approved a plan to resume certain aspects of normal service starting Aug. 24. Continue reading “Bloomington public bus driver tests positive for COVID-19, BT still on course for closer-to-normal service on Aug. 24”

Bloomington public buses roll fare-free through COVID-19 towards fall, with Uber as backup plan, same general manager in driver’s seat

Lew May will be staying on board for another year as general manager of Bloomington Transit.

The five-member board expressed relief at the news at their meeting on Tuesday night—May has been contemplating retirement.

Board member Kent McDaniel said, “We’re lucky to have Lew and I’m glad he’s willing to stay for another year.” The board approved May’s contract extension on a unanimous vote.

May gave two reasons he wants to stay on. First, he wants to stay on through the implementation of the planned new routes, originally scheduled for this fall, but delayed due to uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Second he wants to get Bloomington Transit back on its feet after the pandemic. “To me those are two important things that I would not like to just hand off to the next manager,” May said.

Much of Tuesday’s meeting was focused on various issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. A maintenance staffer tested positive for COVID-19, the city announced in a press issued last week.

No additional employees have tested positive, according to May. But as a contingency, the board authorized the eventual signing of a contract with Uber. Under that contract, Uber would provide transportation service, if so many drivers test positive that the BT bus fleet can’t be operated.

Amid uncertainty about the number of Indiana University students who’ll be returning to campus and where they’ll live, the board OK’d an addendum to BT’s current contract with IU to get through July and August. That’s an alternative to trying to negotiate the renewal of the contract for the whole year, which would typically be done around now. About 70 percent of BT’s ridership typically comes from IU affiliates.

The board also green-lighted a return to service levels that are close to normal, starting Aug. 24. That’s when the time-and-half hazard pay will end for drivers and front-door boarding will start again. All riders will continue to board fare-free.

Continue reading “Bloomington public buses roll fare-free through COVID-19 towards fall, with Uber as backup plan, same general manager in driver’s seat”

Bloomington public bus ridership starts to claw back a bit from COVID-19 impacts

REVISED R Output Monthly BT ridership for COVID report May 19JUNE 16 OUTPUT

Last month the Bloomington Transit (BT) board got clear look at the impact the COVID-19 pandemic was having on fix-route bus ridership. The April numbers were down about 90 percent from April a year ago.

On Tuesday, the May monthly ridership numbers reported at BT’s board meeting  were still dramatically down from the same month a year ago—34,256 rides this May compared to 133,798 in May of 2019.

But that’s a 74-percent drop—which reflects an improvement compared to last month, even if a small one. Continue reading “Bloomington public bus ridership starts to claw back a bit from COVID-19 impacts”

Bloomington Transit board OKs shift to slightly bigger gear related to COVID-19 reopening

At its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday night, the five-member Bloomington Transit board approved a two-phase reopening plan for public bus service in the city.

The plan sets June 1 as the date when something closer to a normal summer break schedule will resume.

Public buses in Bloomington have still been running during the state’s COVID-19 emergency orders, but using a modified Saturday schedule every day. That reduces the number of service hours by about half compared to normal levels this time of year.

Schedules are posted on BT’s website. Realtime bus locations, when they are running, are available through the mobile app DoubleMap.

During the first phase of BT’s reopening plan, passengers can continue to ride the bus fare-free and board through the rear door. Through the first phase, drivers will continue to receive time-and-a-half hazard pay. Continue reading “Bloomington Transit board OKs shift to slightly bigger gear related to COVID-19 reopening”