Bloomington Transit and Campus Bus Ponder Merger, Funding

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Despite a report revealing millions of dollars in funding for available for Indiana University’s Campus Bus service, IU leaders say they’re afraid of a political backlash, should they apply.  But at least one lawmaker says IU has little to be worried about.

Indiana University could be receiving about $2 million already earmarked just for public transportation, according to a report from a group of Kelley School of Business graduate students led by Professor James Grandorf. IU spokesman Kirk White said the University has never applied for the funds because officials are worried about the political price the school would be forced to pay.

“The first response of the transportation cooperation would be to call their state representatives and say you’ve gotta stop this.,” White said. “Where are we going to find this money? This is going to cause a crisis for us, because that’s a huge chunk of their budget.”

Andrew Hahn of the Indiana University Student Association said the university’s fear is a major obstacle for IU student leaders working to push for an application for funds, but it may be unfounded.

“I’m a little suspicious that someone would really go through and try to cut IU’s budget for just a $2 million transportation thing,” he said.

In fact, State Representative Vern Tincher – who sits on the House Roads and Transportation Committee — said vengeance is improbable.

“I think its highly unlikely that the legislators would retaliate against IU and Bloomington for getting some of the transportation money,” Tincher said.

Still, the University is proceeding with caution. Rather than applying for funds as a stand-alone entity, — which the report suggests would bring in the *most* funds for Campus Bus — IU officials have started the preliminary talks required to merge with Bloomington Transit.

“Well I think there’s a lot of benefit for us to work as a partner with Bloomington Transit,” White said.  “You have the experience of the BT organization. We already are combined in many areas. We do maintenance together we have our own building together. There’s no reason for us to take a step backward and become even more separate.”

White added the University has discussed the possibility of combining with Bloomington transit before, but lack of support from university leadership has been a major stumbling block. But White said a combination of new administrators, higher fuel prices and a recession could change some minds.

However, White said if IU starts getting calls from legislators unhappy with the proposal, or threatening to curtail IU funding, school administrators could flip-flop once more.  While he can’t offer exact details about plans for the two systems’ combined operation, White does characterize the talks as productive, saying he’s hopeful a unified bus service could apply for state funding within the next few months. Still, he admitted the project is not the university’s top priority.

“It’s not H1N1 by any stretch of the imagination,” he said.

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