For many in Bloomington, Bloomington Transit busses are a convenience. But, for some Bloomington residents, the public bus system is necessary for survival. Those in poverty rely on the bus to get to work, go to the grocery store, and visit with friends and family. And when the busses aren’t running, those without cars are walking.
On a breezy Saturday morning, Daniel Neidlinger waits for the Route 2 Bloomington Transit bus. Neidlinger, a resident of Martha’s House Emergency Shelter, relies on the Bloomington Transit busses to take him to and from work.
“When you ride the bus, you know you can get where you’re going and you know that you can get there on time and you don’t have to worry about being late to anything,” Neidlinger said.
Neidlinger’s commute takes him from the shelter, near Bloomington Hospital, to the Wendy’s on the West side of town. Riding the bus Monday through Saturday, Neidlinger said he can get to work in 30 minutes. But on Sundays, the busses don’t run, and Neidlinger walks.
“It’s good exercise but, I like to take the bus to get to work.”
Bobbie Summers is the director of Martha’s House Emergency Shelter, where Neidlinger lives. She said Neidlinger isn’t the first Martha’s House resident to walk to and from work when the busses aren’t running, noting one resident works in Ellettsville.
“He takes a bus to Ellettsville to work but when he gets off work there’s no bus so he has to walk a couple hours to get back here every single day that he works. And he works 40 hours a week,” she said. “One day he came up to me and he said ‘I was late last night. It took me three hours to get back, I was so exhausted I had to keep stopping.’ And I personally am petrified because the roads that he has to take – I’m afraid that he could get hit by a car. Because there’s no sidewalk.”
Summers said she wishes the Bloomington Transit busses could run on Sundays, and even overnight, to help people living in poverty. But she also said she knows the system is running on limited resources.
“I’m sure that what the bus system has done is take the resources they’re given and provide us with as many services as they can.”
Bloomington Transit General Manager Lew May understands the need for expanded service. Downtown service is increased to as late as 11:30 p.m., and May has hopes to expand even further.
“The provision of Sunday services is near the top of our priorities, assuming that funding is available at some point in the future,” May said.
Funding for the Bloomington Transit busses comes from public investments, such as property taxes, sales taxes, and income taxes, and bus fares. May said the fares riders pay provide only a fraction of the funding for the busses. With so much of its funding coming from the government, Bloomington Transit could face cuts in funding.
“There’s a bill that’s been introduced in the State House in which 17 percent of state funding is proposed to be eliminated here in Indiana. That would have a significant impact for Bloomington Transit if that comes to pass.”
Carlene Stines drives the Route 3 bus that takes Neidlinger from downtown Bloomington to the westside Wendy’s. She’s been driving the bus for nine years.
“I’ve even said this at work: It’d be nice if we could even have an eight hour service on Sundays for people who have that day free that maybe want to go to church or go grocery shopping,” Stines said.
A cut in funding could force Bloomington Transit to raise bus fares and shorten service hours, and could make it even more difficult for those who rely on the busses to get around. Daniel Neidlinger will continue relying on bus drivers like Stines, and sometimes his own two legs, to get him to and from work.
“Five years from now, I’m still going to be in Bloomington. I’d like to have my own apartment. I’m going to get a car and use the busses too, but hopefully I’ll get a car here soon.”