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Fear of Retribution Stops IU Bus Funding Request

A year after Indiana University’s Campus Bus service was reduced due to sky-high diesel fuel prices, some in the university community are pointing to a two-year old report they say shows the school could easily make up some of the cash it needs to operate a full schedule, if only it would ask.

IU’s Campus Bus operation is funded almost exclusively by the transportation fee the bursar charges every IU student. For the recently completed school year. students taking six or more credit hours paid about $110 a year. Multiply that by the 40,000 or so students on Bloomington’s campus and the bus system takes in about four million dollars a year.  Nonetheless, the University cut back its bus service by about 20% last year due to rising costs of fuel and fleet upkeep. Andrew Hahn, a previous Indiana University Student Association leader who ran this year for IUSA president, complains IU’s system isn’t working, but the university isn’t doing much about it.

“There are about $2 million of state transportation funds for the IU bus system,” Hahn said, “That IU is not getting because IU has not applied for them.”

Previous IUSA administrations have pushed the university to apply for the funds, following revelation of their existence in a report written by a class of Kelley School of Business graduate students, which searched for external transit funding sources. Professor James Grandorf oversaw the project and said the report was something the university itself commissioned.

“Campus Bus asked the students to come in and take a look at what all the options were,” Grandorf said. “They had done some preliminary work already and had some conclusions and they wanted an independent view point of the situation.”

The report offers a number of suggestions for collecting the maximum amount of federal and state money, including consolidation of campus bus into Bloomington Transit and maintaining campus bus as a division of Bloomington Transit. The report contends unification would provide an increase in the funds currently available for public transportation in the Bloomington area.

Alternatively, the report says Campus Bus can apply for state and federal funds on its own. According to Grandorf’s report, if Campus Bus was to apply for and receive Indiana’s public mass transportation funds as an individual entity, it would generate almost twice as much money as a merger between Campus Bus and Bloomington Transit.

So with $2 million up for grabs, what’s stopping IU? IUSA’s Andrew Hahn said its politics.

“If we apply for these funds since it’s a general pool of money we’re taking money away from other transportation systems in the state and so if there’s 40 million dollars in the pot and all the sudden IU is taking $2 million out of the pot the other transportation systems see some decline in their overall money that they’re getting from the state.”

State transportation funds are awarded on a merit basis, factoring in both ridership and efficiency. If campus bus was to apply as a municipal system, it would be ranked as about the 4th largest in the state,  meaning funds previously allocated to other, smaller systems — including Bloomington Transit — would be funneled to the University. Bloomington Transit Manager Lew May says transportation systems — including his own, which partners with IU — depend on that money.

“State money is a significant part of our budget here annually and we really can’t afford a decrease in state funding,” May said.

May declined to say how he would feel if the university applied for the funds alone, but is quoted in Grandorf’s report as saying “…there would be a unified front against campus bus consisting of [Bloomington Transit], the city of Bloomington and other state public transportation entities that face reduced funds…”

Still, IU spokesman Kirk White says that’s not a boat the university wants to rock.

“When we go and phase this funding in, it’s going to mean a shortfall to Indy Go (the Indianapolis transit system),” White said. “Well, what political price are we going to pay for that? What are we going to pay for taking that money from the South Bend system the Evansville system, Fort Wayne and all around the state? We’re going to be capturing dollars that used to go to them and it won’t be there anymore.”

In Monday’s second and final part of this series, officials detail long-standing discussions to merge city and campus bus services and a rebuttal from an Indiana lawmaker who says White and IU are misinterpreting how the issue would play in the Statehouse.

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