NORMAL — Despite cutting bus routes, Connect Transit made at least one family happy Tuesday.
“It’s really nice to hear a board that actually listened to suggestions,” said Donna Tewell of Bloomington. “This will make my son so happy, that he can still get to work, and he’s not the only one.”
Tewell’s son, Lee, is one of many Twin City residents who stood to lose access to Connect Mobility, an on-demand bus service for the elderly and disabled, as part of cuts to fixed-route service approved by Connect Transit’s board Tuesday to take effect this fall. Connect Mobility’s service area is defined by where regular buses run.
While the fixed routes were reduced, the Bloomington-Normal bus system expanded Connect Mobility’s reach from 0.75 of a mile to 1.25 miles from a bus route to keep it accessible to more people.
That was good news for Lee Tewell, 33, who has cerebral palsy and takes Connect Mobility to AFNI, where he won employee of the month last April and Marcfirst’s 2016 Illinois Job Honor Award.
Other changes include ending the Bloomington and Normal tripper routes, which help residents of southwest Bloomington and north Normal get to work, and adjustments to help riders transfer between buses at Uptown Station in Normal.
Overall, the route changes are expected to save about $725,000 per year. That money will help Connect Transit address a backlog of capital costs, including 23 of 42 fixed-route buses that need replacing within five years.
John Bowman, a Connect Transit board member, voted against the cuts. He voted in favor of expanding Connect Mobility.
“I regret that we’re continuing to cut our service area as a system,” he said. “Every member of the community pays for it (through local sales tax), so they deserve the service. … We should make transit as available as possible to all of the community.”
Normal City Manager Mark Peterson, who sits on the board but does not vote, agreed but added, “Unfortunately, we have not been able to find a functioning money-printing machine.”
“We have to make those decisions. We have that fiduciary obligation,” he said of the cuts. “Perhaps when we find a sustainable funding source, we can think about expanding services.”
Bowman added he’s disappointed Connect Mobility service will still be tied to how close a prospective user lives to a standard bus route.
In other business, the board:
- Heard an update from Interim General Manager Isaac Thorne on state funding after a new state budget was approved this month.
The system is slated to receive this week its final payment for expenses accrued during fiscal 2017, which ended June 30, and its first payment for fiscal 2018 within 45 days.
“We were going to make it to about mid-October (with current funds), so we’re very happy to get those (state) payments coming in,” Thorne said.
- Heard an update from Thorne on benches and concrete pads to be added to bus stops now that funding is in place. At least five benches and nine shelters are slated to be installed this year.
- Heard updates on LED displays to be put on the back of buses, an additional source of ad revenue for the system.
The displays are expected to generate $250,000 per year for Connect Transit.
Follow Derek Beigh on Twitter: @pg_beigh