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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
A plexiglass partition on a hinge has been installed at the front of Bloomington Transit buses to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 between passengers and drivers.
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.
Solar panels installed on the canopies of the Bloomington Transit centers downtown center in 2018. (Image from Bloomington 2018 sustainability report.)
Ridership for 2020 is shown in red.
Caution tape separates drivers from passengers in Bloomington Transit buses (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)
At its meeting on Tuesday night, Bloomington Transit’s board voted unanimously to approve just one of the new routes that had emerged from a study done by a consultant last year.
The collection of newly designed routes, optimized to increase readership, was presented to the public at meetings held last year in November and December.
The one new route approved by the board will be named Route 2 West 17th Street, replacing the old one called Route 2 West 11th Street via Showers Complex. It will start service later this year on Aug. 24.
In a press release issued Friday, Bloomington Transit (BT), the public bus service in Bloomington, announced that its March board meeting is cancelled. That follows the trend towards cancelling government board and commission meetings to reduce the chances of transmitting the COVID-19 pandemic virus.
The meeting cancellation will delay by a month a board decision on new routes.
During all Indiana University breaks, including spring break this year (March 15 to 22), BT buses follow a reduced schedule of operation. That’s because more than 70 percent of its riders are university affiliates.