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Noon Edition

Bloomington Transit Considers Changes To Bus Routes

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0:00:01:>>UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Production support for noon edition comes from Smithville. Fiber internet, streaming TV, Home security and automation in southern Indiana. More information at Smithville.com. And from the Herald Times featuring coverage of local news, entertainment and sports - in print at HeraldTimesOnline.com and on your mobile device. And from the Bloomington Health Foundation partnering with local organizations and citizens to invest in programs that address our community's health needs. Bloomington Health Foundation - improving health and well-being takes a community. More at BloomHF.org. 

0:00:39:(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 

0:00:49:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: From the Milton Metz Studio in IU's radio TV building, this is Noon Edition on WFIU. I'm Bob Zaltsberg from WFIU/WTIU news, and I will be your host today. This week, we're talking about potential changes to bus routes in Bloomington. And we have three guests with us in the studio. Lew May is Bloomington Public Transportation Corporation general manager. Beth Rosenbarger is city of Bloomington's planning services manager. And Erin Predmore is a greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce President and CEO. You can follow us on the show by calling 812-855-0811, or toll free at 1-877-285-9348. You can also follow us on Twitter at @noonedition. And you can send questions to the show at News@IndianaPublicMedia.org. So this week, some things have happened with the new bus routes. And Lew, I want to turn to you first and just ask, what prompted this big study? And where are we with the study? 

0:01:52:>>LEW MAY: Well, last year we went through about a year long route optimization study, as we call it. And the study wrapped up last summer. And it made a number of significant recommendations for changes to our bus route network. And the impetus behind the study was that the community has changed fairly significantly in the last 10 to 15 years in a number of different ways. For example, over the last decade or so, we've seen a great residential development in the downtown area. Many more people are living in the downtown area, many of them are college students. Some of them lived an off campus apartment complexes previously. So we've seen certainly a change in residential development in the downtown area. There are other things that have happened in our community. The advent of I-69 on the west side has brought a lot of traffic volume and congestion, especially to our routes that serve the west side. We have the upcoming relocation of our hospital that's going to be moving out from a central location to the northeast side of the city near 10th and the bypass. And then we've seen in the last decade or so just a growing traffic volumes and congestion all around the city. And that has impacted transit routes and our ability to stay on time with the routes and schedules that we've been running. And it's incumbent upon us to make changes so that we can provide a reliable and dependable service. So that was a big part of the study, to come up with routes that will be more reliable and more attractive so that people can count on them when they're using transit. 

0:03:48:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So Beth, I wanted to ask you about just the idea of having a strong transit system. You know, when you think about planning for Bloomington's future, how important is it that we get this right? 

0:03:59:>>BETH ROSENBARGER: Oh, wow. I think it's very important. And when we look at our adopted comprehensive plan as a community, we have a lot of goals that relate to transit and some specifically. So in the transportation chapter goal 6.2 - improve public transit to maintain, improve and expand an accessible, safe and efficient public transportation system. And I would say from the, you know, we have this as a goal in our plan. And we want to think of it twofold. There's a lot that relates to equity in our transit system and the ability for people to get to jobs, to get to their kids' school, to get to child care. It's really about freedom and what they can access. And then the other side of course is climate change and that when people take a bus and they don't take a private vehicle, it's much more efficient. And we lower our emissions as a community substantially from changes along those lines. 

0:04:56:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So Erin, from the Chamber of Commerce point of view, where does transit fit into, you know, the goals of helping business thrive in Bloomington? 

0:05:09:>>ERIN PREDMORE: We agree with what Beth just said. It's a critical part of the future of Bloomington and the surrounding community. So I think it's important to think of us as a - if we think of ourselves as a economic region, transportation and the impact public transit has on that whether it's getting, you know, employees to and from work, you know, being able to plan for the future. And as the city physically grows and moves beyond - or we go and the county grows, the region grows - that sort of thing - it continues to be an issue. I mean, we could - if we just talk about transit or transportation as a example, when 37 was turning into 69 and the pain that we all felt as a community when we had the east-west routes being, you know, moved and worked on. And the reason I say that is transportation and transit impacts all of our lives a great deal. And when we think about that equity that's needed for people of all walks of life to be able to access all parts of our community, a transit becomes a really simple answer for that kind of equity to be out there. And so the Chamber of Commerce very much supports transit and its expansion and efficient running. 

0:06:17:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Well, I want to ask Lew to sort of put the Bloomington transit system in context. I mean, Bloomington - it seems to me that Bloomington is a fairly small city to have such a large transit system. Am I correct about that? 

0:06:31:>>LEW MAY: Yeah. I would say you're right. We're what we might call a transit intensive city. In fact, that's a definition that's used in the federal environment. And the one thing that's different and stands out about Bloomington, we're a college town. We've got over 40,000 IU students that go to school here. And they move about in our community. And it's the single greatest activity center in our community in terms of traffic generation and in terms of jobs. And so it's important for college communities like Bloomington to have good public transportation so they can facilitate mobility and people moving about in our communities so that we're not completely gridlocked in our community. 

0:07:19:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: I know it's an expensive thing to operate. It's very expensive to have transit - comprehensive transit. How is your ridership? I mean, what - and how much of the cost is borne by the riders versus, you know, the city, taxpayers? 

0:07:35:>>LEW MAY: Yeah. Great question, one that we field often in this industry. Just to put Bloomington transit ridership in perspective - I've been here a little over 20 years. And when I arrived here in '98, our ridership was less than a million riders a year. 1999 was the first year that we popped the 1 million passenger mark. And you fast forward to today and we're carrying over 3 million riders. So over the last two decades or so, we've more than tripled our ridership there. And, you know, much of that is attributable to university students who are using the service in big numbers there and helping to address traffic and congestion issues in our community. You ask about fares and how much of the cost are borne by fares. And here in Bloomington, about 20% of our operating costs are funded through the fare box, as we call it, or the fares that the public pays. And that's pretty typical for a community our size - it's actually probably a little better than a community our size. Typical community of 80 or 85,000 people, you know, the fares might cover 10 to 15% of the operating cost. So we do a little bit better than the rest of the country. 

0:09:00:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: We've had a question sent in. IU students get to ride the bus for free, it says. Does IU pay to cover this? 

0:09:08:>>LEW MAY: They do. The university levies a mandatory transportation fee to all students. I don't remember exactly what it is, but I think it's somewhere in the vicinity of 65 or $70 a semester that every student pays. Part of those transportation fee revenues come back to Bloomington transit. And that buys the students the privilege or the ability to use Bloomington transit at no charge. Most of that transportation fee revenue that the university collects is going to fund their own transit system. I believe it's about three-quarters of the total fees that they collect for transportation funds the IU campus bus system. But about a quarter of it comes back to Bloomington transit. Now, beyond that, there's, I think, upwards of 10,000 employees at IU Bloomington here. And the university provides a free pass for all of their staff - faculty and employees as well. And that's a fringe benefit that they purchase from Bloomington transit. And they pay for those fares so that faculty and staff can ride it no charge. 

0:10:19:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK. So I wanted to ask the two of you - let's start with Erin. Where are the gaps? Where are the gaps that you think, you know, Bloomington transit - we're not going to beat on Lew today or anything like that, but - I mean, because they do such a great job, right? 

0:10:36:>>ERIN PREDMORE: They do. 

0:10:36:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: But where are some areas that you hope that this optimization study will lead the transit system? 

0:10:44:>>ERIN PREDMORE: Well, we have a - and first let me say I agree with you completely. Lew is a wonderful partner in transportation and transit and is a real champion for this and has been, you know, in many ways an unsung hero for 20 years, working so hard in our community so that 30, you know - sorry - 3 million people - rides can happen every year. We have some opportunities, I would say, in our community for expanded transit. One of them is to go onto the west side and to extend 3rd Street out towards Ivy Tech and Cook and all of the development that's going out there. There have been research and data collection through Ivy Tech and Cook, as two of the, you know, kind of main anchors out that way, to find out more about what is needed for their students and faculty, staff and employees. And I just think in general that that part of West Side of Bloomington does need some more attention. And it is hindered by the ordinance that we have in place here in Bloomington. That is the only audience of its type in the state that restricts Bloomington transit to just within the city limits. And so I think there's an opportunity for our community and our elected officials to make a change in that. I know that was a recommendation of the consultants for the optimization study was to explore that possibility of changing that ordinance. I think it's been in place since the '80s. And again, it limits us. We don't - other communities have a fringe where they're allowed to go into that area when they're doing - a community has a transit system. Others by state ordinance are allowed to do for the whole county - rural transits partnering with Bloomington transit and then therefore they can't do some other things because of that. So freeing that, I would say that's our number one opportunity is to make a change there with that ordinance so that we can allow all the possibilities to be on the table as things are planned. 

0:12:32:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: And you said that ordinance was - been there since the '80s? 

0:12:36:>>ERIN PREDMORE: Yeah. 

0:12:36:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Yeah. So, I mean, Ivy Tech and the Cook headquarters weren't there in the '80s, right? 

0:12:41:>>ERIN PREDMORE: Exactly. 

0:12:42:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So it's a big - it's a lot different now. So I noticed that it was one of the 12 - it was on the routes, one of the 12 routes that it said expanding out that area, but it would take a change in the ordinance in order to allow that to happen, is that correct? 

0:12:58:>>LEW MAY: Yeah. I can talk to that. So our study, as it looked at the West Side, one of the recommendations was - from the study - was to serve the Ivy Tech and Cook area there. I will say from a staff perspective, we have a little different viewpoint on it. Staff is neutral on that particular issue. And the reason for that is we understand it's ultimately a decision that's going to have to be made by elected officials and policymakers in the community. So again, we're neutral on that. You know, one of the issues is, who's going to pay for that service, you know? City taxpayers are the only ones who are funding property taxes within Bloomington to pay for the Bloomington transit system. And if you're going to provide service outside the city, who's going to pay for it outside the city there? So that's an issue that has to be discussed amongst policymakers. 

0:13:53:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: That's a huge Pandora's Box. We can get a whole annexation issue with that. 

0:13:57:>>LEW MAY: Yeah. 

0:13:57:>>ERIN PREDMORE: Well, and I would - just to kind of open that Pandora's box just a little bit. I will say that when you get on the bus, they don't card you. They're not trying to find out - they don't do a property search to find out if you've paid property taxes in support of the bus that you're standing on. It's part of that economic driver and support of people throughout the community who need to get from point A to Point B. And so the chamber certainly has the position that it's a conversation worth having, worth figuring out. We need to talk to our, you know, elected officials in the county and see what - I mean, no one has said, oh, no, they wouldn't necessarily do something, you know, in a contractual sort of way like other communities do. But even if we're taking a - even if they refuse, I guess I would argue that if we're taking a city resident from the city of Bloomington the extra quarter mile to get to work and then therefore, you know, there's a lot of reduction in transportation costs generally and they're not using their personal car, they're able to show up to work, they're doing all these positive things in the community, that's a reasonable thing for us to be able to tackle as a community. So I think the question needs to be asked. 

0:15:06:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. Our phone numbers are 812-855-0811, or toll free 1-877-285-9348. You can also send questions for the show at News@IndianaPublicMedia.org. Follow us on Twitter at @noonedition. We're talking about Bloomington transit and some changes that are ahead for Bloomington transit with three guests. We have Lew May, the general manager of Bloomington Public Transportation Corporation, Beth Rosenbarger from the city of Bloomington's planning - and she's the Planning Services Manager and Erin Predmore, the president and CEO of the greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce. Beth, you talked about the equity issues to start the show. And I wanted you to go a little more deeply into that. So the - why does - you know, what - just sort of explain more about transit and equity for people that really need it and want it. 

0:16:00:>>BETH ROSENBARGER: Great question. Thank you. So the first thing I would bring up is, I think we tend to focus on students and the students who use transit. But when we - and they're a big part of our transit system, and that's wonderful. And there are a lot of people who also rely on transit to get to work. So from the 2017 American Community Survey, in our community, 6.7% of people use public transportation to get to work. This is out of workers over the age of 16, and it's about 38,000 people. So this is not - there might be some students who are using the bus within that number to get to work. But this is more people who are outside of the university or people who are taking it anywhere to a job. When we break that down and talk about it more, we can see actually there's a range according to race and who uses the bus. And I think that's important for us to talk about. So out of the 6-point - or when we look at the 6.7% and look at different races and their use of the bus, we see that actually white people are 5%, African Americans are 12% and Asian - maybe Asian American is 26%. And I think some of that, if we take a deeper dive, will be connected to income and median income in our community and how that is a big factor in using the bus. Average - the AAA estimates that the average annual cost of car ownership, I think for a new car, is $9,000 a year. For an older car, I've seen some stuff - let's say it's $5,000 a year. That's a lot of money. There's insurance, there's maintenance, there's gas and depreciation. The bus is very reasonably priced and a great way for people to get to work. But when we talk about the time cost sometimes - if you put on Google Maps if I'm going to drive there or take the bus, and there might be - it might take three times as long to take the bus. And I think that's no fault of the transit system, but that we - in order to increase that, I would say we have to look at improving it per our goals, but that the current study is cost neutral. So Bloomington transit is trying to do all that it can and to be the most efficient possible within the current amount of funding. And if we want to see different results, I think we have to consider more funding and different options to improve transit. And finally, I would say there's also stuff we can do with the built environment along those lines as well. So that's where the city can have a role in the built environment and how the bus - helping with different stops throughout the community. Some stops aren't accessible. So if you're a person who uses a wheelchair, that's really challenging. So those are some of the things about equity, but there's a lot more, too. 

0:18:45:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Yeah. 

0:18:46:>>ERIN PREDMORE: Well, and I'd like to add just a story that came to mind as Beth was talking in my work in nonprofits in the past, helping people with rent, utility assistance. I remember talking with a woman who was about to be evicted because she couldn't make her rent. And she'd - several months had gone by, she'd been ill, she's been trying to juggle things. And one of the things as we were brainstorming, she mentioned, well, you know, if only - I did get that offer for more hours at work. And so I'm thinking, why didn't you take that offer? That would solve all these problems for you. And she said, well, I don't have a car, and I have to ride the bus. And the bus goes - the last drop at my stop is at 6:45. And if I stay and do the - I won't have a way home to do that. So when you think about the impact on our community, it's, you know, it is about ease and it's about time that you spend, that personal cost in getting, you know, from one side of town to the other. But it's a real - I don't want to separate that from the personal stories of the people impacted. And by investing more into our transit system, I think - I really liked the word that Beth used about freedom. I mean, it's freedom from many negative things. And it's freedom to begin to open up doors for people that they wouldn't otherwise have opportunities to do so. 

0:19:56:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Do any of you have an estimate for - if it's 9,000 to $5,000 for a car, anybody have an estimate number of, you know, if somebody is taking the bus regularly roughly what it might cost? 

0:20:07:>>ERIN PREDMORE: What's an annual pass, Lew? 

0:20:09:>>LEW MAY: Well, a semi-annual pass I believe is $150. So $300 a year for a monthly bus pass. 

0:20:19:>>ERIN PREDMORE: That's incredible. 

0:20:20:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: That's much cheaper than... 

0:20:22:(LAUGHTER) 

0:20:22:>>LEW MAY: Right. 

0:20:23:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: We did get a person send in a question. It's a teacher, Kristin Milks, who had sent in a question about - actually, kind of a comment saying that we need more options for kids so that they can stay longer after school. And that that also helps with equity issues. You know, how does that work now in terms of - you know, I think about school buses, right? But how does your buses run close to the public schools to get kids, you know, home afterward? 

0:20:53:>>LEW MAY: Sure. Well, most of the - well, both high schools, Bloomington High School north and south both are served well by Bloomington transit. Most of our middle schools with maybe the exception of Bachelor, which is outside the city, are served by Bloomington transit as well. Many of the elementary schools also have service now. But it's up to the parents if they want their school-aged elementary school children to use public transit or not. But I think most parents feel comfortable allowing their middle school kids or their high school kids. And we do carry a number of people on Bloomington transit both to high schools and middle schools. By the way, we do have reduced fare, youth fares for high school and middle school students. They can ride for half price, 50 cents. So... 

0:21:43:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK. 

0:21:43:>>LEW MAY: Yeah. 

0:21:44:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Good. Well, we're gonna take a short break. We're about halfway through the program today. We're talking about Bloomington's bus service. There's some changes ahead for Bloomington transit. And we're going to talk about that in the second half of the program. If you have questions or comments, please give us a call at 812-855-0811, or toll free at 1-877-285-9348. You're listening to noon edition. We'll be right back. 

0:22:09:(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 

0:22:20:>>UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: From the Milton Metz Studio at IU's radio TV building, this is noon edition on WFIU. WFIU news covers South Central Indiana and the state throughout the day at WFIUnews.org and on Twitter at @WFIUnews. You can watch unfiltered video of breaking stories on Facebook Live. And you can get a digest of all the day's top stories delivered to your inbox each afternoon. It's a free and easy way to stay on top of the headlines, plus the in-depth audio, video and print news stories you can't get anywhere else. Subscribe now at WFIUnews.org. 

0:23:00:(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 

0:23:14:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Welcome back to Noon Edition. I'm Bob Zaltsberg, your host from WFIU/WTIU news. And today, we're talking with Lew May, the Bloomington public transportation corporation general manager, Beth Rosenbarger, the City of Bloomington planning services manager and Erin Predmore, greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce President and CEO. We're talking about Bloomington transit, some of the changes that are ahead for it. If you have questions, give us a call at 812-855-0811, or toll free at 1-877-285-9348. You can also send questions to news@IndianaPublicMedia.org. And you can follow us on Twitter at @noonedition. We did have a question that was sent in earlier from Chris Judge who says, suppose that the proposed changes are approved and implemented - he also says he hopes they're not - but after a year, there's no significant increase in ridership, will Bloomington transit revert to the old routes? 

0:24:13:>>LEW MAY: Yeah. Great question. When the consultants who did the study for us - they told us at the outset, whatever recommendations we implement has a reasonable chance that your ridership is actually going to decline the first couple of years. And, in fact, that has been the experience in other cities as it takes some time for people to adjust to the new route network. So it's quite possible that we'll see a ridership decline in the first year or two. But the trend is, after a couple of years, typically the ridership rebounds and it begins to grow. And that's been the experience in other cities where they have done major route network redesigns. And this is a trend that's not unique to Bloomington either. Many cities across the country are engaged in route optimization studies where they're looking at overhauling their entire transit system and the route network, because cities change. They're not the same form that they were 10 or 20 years ago. And certainly that's been the case in Bloomington. And I expect that after we implement the changes and regardless how the ridership turns out, we will need to make some adjustments to the routes. We will need to fine tune. And so we'll monitor how things go after the first year or so. And I fully expect we'll have to make some changes. 

0:25:41:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Well, it seems like we're at a real pivotal time sort of in our history when it comes to climate change and the environment. I would think that would be driving some changes for mass transit and bus systems throughout our country if not the world. Beth, you talked about that a little bit in the beginning. So again, I wanted you to add to that. I mean, why is it important in terms of the whole climate change issue to have the best bus system possible? 

0:26:11:>>BETH ROSENBARGER: Sure. So if we as a community are interested in more people using public transit and not driving alone to get places, we know that that is connected to lower emissions. And the reason we want to do that is because of climate change and equity. But I think it's important to consider this as an entire system and not just think people are just going to make a switch. And so we have to look at our transportation system as a whole and know that over time slowly people - when we say I need to get somewhere, for some people that is equivalent to I need to drive to this place. And in order to shift that, we have to also shift our system and know that people need to get places, and the ways that they will get there are determined by the system that we have created and the systems that we are able to shift. So I just read this quote actually in, oddly, a booklet about a healthy weight initiative in Indiana, but I liked it a lot. It says it is unreasonable to think that people are going to change their behavior easily when so many forces in the social, cultural and physical environment conspire against that change. And that's from an Institute of Medicine article. And so when I talk about that, I would just point out that we know one challenge would be more funding for buses to run more frequently, because if your bus only comes once an hour, that is limiting on your freedom. But another challenge would be a bus makes stops and waits in traffic behind private vehicles. And when we look at options or look at other communities that have improved transit and really made it more reliable and a faster option for people, they have provided space for the bus where it's not waiting in traffic. And we can look to Indianapolis, you know, our neighbor, which just developed the red line. And it is just an amazing, game-changing, system-changing infrastructure development. 

0:28:22:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So how's the red line work? 

0:28:24:>>BETH ROSENBARGER: Oh, sure. 

0:28:24:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Yeah. 

0:28:25:>>BETH ROSENBARGER: So it is called a type of bus rapid transit. So the red line has a dedicated lane on the street. So the bus, you know, if a bus and a car are moving down the street together, the bus will take longer because it's making stops and picking up people. And so in order to compete more with the time and reduce the travel time, the bus has a dedicated lane. So it does make stops, but then it is able to just continue on and move a bit faster down the street than waiting behind vehicles at a stoplight and things like that. It has dedicated stations, I believe, mostly in the middle of the street in Indy. I actually need to go check it out. But they do fast loading. It is a really quick stop. And most bus rapid transit systems - I'm not sure their stop frequency - they increase the distance between stops slightly, and that's because it's a higher level of service. And people are willing to walk slightly further than they would if it was - like, because it travels faster. 

0:29:27:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Is our city big enough for something like that, Lew, you think? 

0:29:30:>>LEW MAY: I think it could be, especially given that we have Indiana University located here. Transit works best where you have density, where you're carrying large numbers of people. And that's what bus rapid transit does. It caters to, you know, large groups of people who are going to similar destinations and coming from similar trip origins. And you're starting to see bus rapid transit systems being considered in college communities across the country. 

0:29:58:>>BETH ROSENBARGER: And when you look at density, I would just add that Bloomington is denser than Indianapolis. We would want to compare, of course, along the red line corridor as it is. But I think it is - we are compact. And we benefit from that compactness as a community. But our population density is higher than Indianapolis. 

0:30:17:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So the mayor has talked about an additional local income tax - right? - for climate action. Is this something that could be used to increase mass transit, Erin? 

0:30:32:>>ERIN PREDMORE: I'll take that one, yeah. I think - I will say that the mayor's announcement and subsequent things coming out have been vague or undefined yet. And part of that's the community needs to weigh in about the proposed local income tax. But, yes, I think that transit and climate change and - they go hand-in-hand. And when we talk about a critical juncture for our community - this conversation around transit has been going on for quite a while. And we talk about wanting to change behaviors, but then we're not investing in ways to make that possible for people, because there is a kind of a tipping point I think when it comes from, you know - I told this story before about an embarrassing time. I threw the kids in my minivan and. I was going to campus to go to the science fest. And as I pulled out onto the street, I got behind a bus. And they'd stopped right in front of me and a family had gotten onto the bus. And then I proceeded to follow the bus all the way to campus. And they dropped that same family off at Science fest while I pulled around the corner and tried to find a parking place and then lugged my children into science fest. I could have ridden the bus. And it was all about habit and about expectation and about my perceived ease of transportation, right? I think we have to make a huge push within our community, if we actually want different behavior, to give people opportunities to change that behavior and kind of have that safety net so that they feel like they can still do - so just going back to that local income tax. Investing in transit and having that be part of the use of that seems to me to be a very wise way to marry those things together, that we as a community have been asking for for a while. And I think it's a wonderful opportunity for us to explore that. There's a huge correlation between increased service and ridership. I know that Lew had mentioned that ridership is up. It's 1.75% up this last year. And that's attributed to the increased service in one of their routes. And so if we add more service, we will have more riders. And so I think that, like, again, that local income tax allows us to support that as that gets going. 

0:32:38:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So - I don't know - this might be an impossible question to answer. I'm going to ask all three of you. How do you get those people - how do you get that person to make the change? You know, the first time, a person who's never ridden a bus before and says, OK, I've been hearing a lot about this, you know? How do you reach that person and say, why don't you give it a try one time? Is there... 

0:32:58:>>LEW MAY: I'll give it a shot... 

0:32:59:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Yeah, yeah. OK. 

0:32:59:>>LEW MAY: ...Start off. Well, I think you have to appeal to a person's desire to realize either change or savings or efficiency in their life of some kind. It could be an economic argument that you're making where, as you just described, Erin, you might be able to save money as a result of using the bus. The cost of owning an automobile versus the cost of a bus pass, there's a big difference there. So the economic argument is one way to make it. You can appeal to a person's conscience, you know, do we really believe that we have a climate issue in our world here? And what are the things that I'm doing in my own life that are contributing to that climate issue? Driving could be one of those issues. And perhaps somebody would consider that argument and make a change in their life for the benefit of everyone that lives here. And then you can appeal to other factors, I think. Some of the studies that I've read show that people who use transit regularly are more healthy. And part of that reason is because they have to walk more. If you're going to use transit, you're going to have to walk to and from the bus stop, wherever it may be. So as a result, you walk more steps each day or more miles each day. And that contributes to a person's overall fitness. So it really comes down to, you know, are people thinking about change in their life? And so I think those are just one of the best ways to appeal to a person. 

0:34:39:>>BETH ROSENBARGER: So I would add - I would think of it from a policy perspective and a built environment perspective. And the policy part being, when we subsidize parking, that's a really big factor in how people get places. So if it's easy to drive there and easy to park there and you're not bearing that full cost, you don't see it. And it really influences the way we make decisions. So I think that is an important thing to continue to discuss as a community. And then the second one being the built environment. And I think people make a shift when it is convenient for them or when they have to. So I think when we look at campus and you say, how many people drive themselves to Ballantine? Not many people do (laughter) because you can't drive your car to it. And I'm not proposing that across the city, I just want to be clear. But I'm saying in that case, the bus is a very efficient way for you to get there. You get dropped off on Third Street and you walk up to Ballantine. So I think we have an opportunity to continue to look at our city and look at the places within streets that we could give transit a leg up and let that be faster and more convenient. And it's a challenge because we don't have many multi-lane streets in our community, but we have some. And those are probably good places to take a look at. 

0:36:01:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK. We've had a few other questions come in. But let me give our phone numbers again in case you want to give us a call, 812-855-0811 in Bloomington or toll free at 1-877-285-9348 outside the Bloomington area. You can also send us questions for the show at News@IndianaPublicMedia.org. I think we have a caller on the line, and it's Sarah. Sarah, go ahead. 

0:36:26:>>SARAH: Hi I'm interested in the idea that we would have a dedicated lane from buses as they do in some parts of Indianapolis. I very recently ridden on streets in Indianapolis where they have that lane. And I'm sure that works really well, except that they have a lot more lanes per street than any of the streets in Bloomington. If you have a two-lane street, you can't have a dedicated bus lane. If you have a three-lane street, you've really wiped out a lot of ability for other cars to travel other ways. We don't have the wide streets that they have up there. 

0:37:10:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. We're going to get some reaction to that. 

0:37:12:>>SARAH: OK. Thank you. 

0:37:13:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Thank you, Sarah. 

0:37:14:>>SARAH: I'll hang up and go to the radio. 

0:37:14:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK. Thanks, Sarah. 

0:37:15:>>LEW MAY: Well, I think as Beth mentioned, we do have a few streets that are four-lane streets. And I think that's what you were referring to. For example, Third Street, which is probably the primary east-west quarter through our community, might someday in the future be a good candidate for the consideration of bus lines. 

0:37:35:>>BETH ROSENBARGER: Sure. And I'll clarify, this is not something that is being proposed for Bloomington right now. And it's not something that we have a set plan around. But I think it is important for us to look at and to consider. And I agree there, we have a lot of two-lane streets where that's just not feasible this time. So we would want to look at the multi-lane streets. But also from - if we want to look at moving more people, transit is an incredibly efficient way to move people. And I wish I brought this cool chart, but people wouldn't be able to see it anyway, which is about when you look at a 10-foot lane and how many people can move per hour within a 10 foot space according to mode. Of course transit will outpace personal vehicles every time. And it's by thousands of people. It's really impressive. So it is an efficient use of space. The question is thinking about changing our system. And is that something we can look at as we look at our streets kind of with an open mind. 

0:38:38:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK. Now, we've had a couple of questions about people with disabilities. One caller mentioned difficulties of people with disabilities getting access to the bus, asked for more door-to-door service. So what - I know we have BT access, right? So can you explain what we can do for people with disabilities? 

0:38:58:>>LEW MAY: OK. Well, BT access is a specialized transit service that Bloomington transit provides. It's a curb to curb, door to door type service whereby people with disabilities can be picked up at their homes and taken to wherever it is that they're going - whether it's doctor, shopping, work, school, whatever it may be. BT access is a very popular service in our community. Just in this past year, 2019 we carried over 38,000 passenger trips. And it was an all-time record for Bloomington transit - most number of persons that we've ever carried on BT access. It's an expensive service for transit systems. All transit systems have it. The term that we use for it is paratransit in the industry. It's a service that's required for transit systems to provide through the Americans With Disabilities Act. Again, it's an expensive service. It's more akin to a taxi service. It cost us somewhere in the range of almost $20 for every trip that we provide on BT access. And the fare that we collect for a single one-way trip is only $2. So there's quite a bit of subsidy that goes into that. But we understand that many people, due to their disability - whether it's physical or cognitive - don't have the ability to use a regular fixed route bus. It's just impossible due to their circumstances. And so BT access is there to provide an important transportation link for those people. 

0:40:31:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: There's another person that called in and asked - said that - I don't know if it's a he or a she - has disabilities, but doesn't really qualify for the door-to-door service and wants more bus stops closer to concentrations of senior citizens. Was that a consideration in the optimization study? 

0:40:52:>>LEW MAY: You know. When you consider where seniors live, yes. I think so. I mean, we're seeing more and more senior living facilities in our community. For example, I think there's a new one that's recently opened up near Sarah Road near Canada drive there. And it's right on a bus route there. And it's a building forward design, which is what Beth was talking about regarding the built environment there. So, yes. But obviously when seniors are considering where they're going to live, I hope that they will consider, is it close or adjacent or proximate to a transit route? 

0:41:33:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK. The other question I have to ask is about this micro transit service, because, you know, it's a term that's unfamiliar to me. So how's that work? 

0:41:45:>>LEW MAY: Yeah. It is a new innovation. It's a concept that's being used in - primarily in larger cities. But it's something that we're interested in here at Bloomington transit in our community. The best explanation I can give you, it's probably more akin to Uber and Lyft where you have your smartphone, you have an app. When you're ready to go, a few minutes before you're ready, you call up a ride on it. And then a few minutes later, a vehicle will be there to pick you up and to take you where you're going in a selected zone that's designated for micro transit use. So at Bloomington transit, we're considering the use of micro transit to possibly be a more efficient way to move people at times of day when we carry fewer people, such as at night. We have service right now on most of our routes that goes to about 11:30 at night. And naturally ridership drops off significantly the later that you go. So right now we're toying with the concept of possibly using micro transit for trips after 9:30 at night when it may not make the most efficient use of putting out a big bus out there, and instead using a smaller vehicle on a demand response basis instead. 

0:43:09:>>ERIN PREDMORE : And if I can ask Lew just a question about that sort of. So as we consider - we talk, again, about sort of this tipping point in the community, concerns about we need more transit - and lots of people have been saying that. And we want to expand transit. And the route optimization is kind of a shift to changing transit, reducing routes, you know, changing some of the - streamlining some things and then also the micro transit. So in some ways, you could summarize that as a reduction in service. Is it just a money - is that what it is that's keeping us from expanding to meet those needs that we keep talking about? Is that what it comes down to? Is there ridership or how do those - what could we see in our future? If we step back now and we have this reduction, at what point could we be achieving these goals that we imagine for our community that involve expanded transit whether it's out Third and it's more frequent and there's, you know, that kind of thing and more routes? 

0:44:05:>>LEW MAY: I think it's primarily a question of public investment. 

0:44:09:>>ERIN PREDMORE : So money? 

0:44:10:>>LEW MAY: Yeah. Dollars and Cents. 

0:44:11:>>ERIN PREDMORE : OK. 

0:44:11:>>LEW MAY: Public transportation is a public service. It's funded by the taxpayer. It's not funded entirely by user fees. And as I mentioned, user fees are only paying about 20% of the costs. So it requires significant public investment. Right now, the options, the alternatives that we have in terms of increasing public investment are very limited. You know, we have a property tax that funds Bloomington transit. But there are property tax caps. We can only grow that property tax a few percentage points each year in line with the growth factor for each county there. We really have no other tools. Bloomington transit and cities and communities across the state don't have the legal authority to impose additional taxes. We've been trying to work with the legislature. Senator Mark Stoops from Monroe County has been a real champion in his efforts to give counties across the state the ability to levy a local income tax that could be used to fund and expand transit. And he's been able to get the bill through the Senate several times in the last few years. But it has always died in the house for lack of a committee hearing in the house. So some of it very much is dollars and cents. And we need the support of our own elected officials to make that happen. 

0:45:39:>>ERIN PREDMORE : Right. So one of the things and part of the reason I asked that specifically - because we did talk - I know that Bob just asked the question about the lid. And we see that as an opportunity at the chamber to invest publicly into an expansion in transit. I know that a couple of years ago - I mentioned earlier that Ivy Tech and Cook had surveyed their own, you know, employees and students and faculty to see who would ride, how many needed it, how often would they need it, the hours and that sort of thing. And they made this whole report and talked about the fees and cost and that sort of thing. And what they essentially figured out was that the total demand for the route if you extended third - the third street route all the way out - would have yearly revenue of over half a million dollars for that. And so I'm curious to know is that - would that be sufficient to support that route expansion if that route out to Ivy Tech and Cook brought in half a million dollars into the budget? 

0:46:35:>>LEW MAY: Now, I'm not not exactly sure what their methodology was in calculating some of those numbers there. They do sound a little bit optimistic there. But really, the cost of any service is driven by the quantity of service that you're providing. In other words, how many days a week is it operating, what hours, you know, during each day is it operating? And that's what drives the cost there. 

0:47:01:>>ERIN PREDMORE : OK. 

0:47:02:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. I'm going to go to a phone call because we have a question from one of our listeners. So Richard's on the line. Richard? 

0:47:08:>>RICHARD LUNAMEYER: Hi. This is Richard Lunameyer (ph). This is my recommendation for how to encourage ridership on Bloomington transit. Basically, run a lottery. So the first month, you know, the lucky winner gets a $1,000. The second month, they get $5,000. And the third month, they get $10,000. So this is the kind of thing that would get ordinary people who maybe would use the service but have never done it to decide that they wanted to do it. And then once they've started using the service then I'd say there's a likelihood that they'll continue to use the service. So that would be a fairly inexpensive way to basically encourage ridership. And I think that would probably work. 

0:47:51:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right, Richard, thanks. 

0:47:52:>>RICHARD LUNAMEYER: Sure. 

0:47:53:>>LEW MAY: So instead of buying a lottery ticket, create a transit lottery. 

0:47:58:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: There you go. 

0:47:58:>>LEW MAY: Great idea. I've not heard of that one before. 

0:48:00:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Yeah. 

0:48:01:>>ERIN PREDMORE: Yeah. That would motivate people to look at it new... 

0:48:03:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Yeah. 

0:48:03:>>ERIN PREDMORE: ...A new idea. 

0:48:04:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: It would be a new idea. City Council would probably have to look at it - right? - decide - or the public transportation board. Whatever. Somebody else called in and asked about the idea of having, I guess, almost like shuttles that would run from places like the Kmart parking lot into the city center. So people could just park their car out there - sort of warehouse them out there - and then hop on a bus, go downtown and then be able to get a bus back out there. Is that a conversation that's going on? 

0:48:36:>>ERIN PREDMORE: I think that's definitely going on in my circles of the whole idea of the park and rides. We did a transit convening that Lew was nice enough to participate in along with some others. And we had a panel and then broke into some action groups. And from the chamber's perspective, the park and ride options in the fringe areas near those population hubs - we have so many employees that come into our county. So we have a surplus of people that come in every day just for work. And so being able to have that option for them to be able to park at, you know, like you said, in the fringes and then ride the bus in was something that lots of people were interested in doing because they don't necessarily need their car through the day, especially if they're already commuting 30 minutes to an hour to get here. They really were just parking it. And it was being warehoused all day. So that was something that would reduce, you know, a few miles of their trip, and then also allow a reduction in congestion downtown. 

0:49:28:>>LEW MAY: Probably the best example - we have a good local example of park and ride right here in Bloomington, the IU campus bus and the stadium - football stadium... 

0:49:37:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Right. 

0:49:38:>>LEW MAY: ...There. Several thousand cars are parked there every day by students. And they hop a very frequent and direct shuttle that takes them the mile or so to the IU campus. And it's important to remember what are some of the incentives and disincentives for using that service. And of course there are disincentives there, and those are always important in the use of transit and encouraging people to use transit. And the disincentives are, it's difficult to park on campus. There's limited parking availability. And typically, you have to buy a parking permit. So there's a cost disincentive there. And having those disincentives in place encourage people in this case to use the park and ride option. 

0:50:24:>>ERIN PREDMORE: Yeah. And I think it's the combination of those things that help people, like we talked about, to change behavior and to look for other opportunities. 

0:50:30:>>LEW MAY: Right. 

0:50:31:>>BETH ROSENBARGER: And of course that touches on housing. So, you know, the first question would be, are people living beyond the city or beyond the county by choice? Or is it - for some folks, yes. And for some folks it's the cost of housing. And so we try to always talk about the cost of housing and transportation together in that. I've also learned to add energy into that, so - because often, homes that cost less are also very energy inefficient. So thinking about, these are very related. And how can we really encourage and aid in more housing within our community so at least that fewer people are making that trip as well? 

0:51:10:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Very quickly, Erin, one last question came in. We only have about 30 seconds to go. What can be done to encourage businesses to see buses as an asset? 

0:51:19:>>ERIN PREDMORE: I think many businesses do see them as an asset already. BT has a great opportunity where people can actually buy - put their employees and get the bus passes for them so that their employees can be able to ride the buses for free as well. So I think as downtown tightens up and we have more density and parking continues to be an issue then that core is going to continue to see the transit system as a wonderful benefit that we do indeed have in our community and we're lucky to have. 

0:51:44:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Thank you to Erin Predmore from the greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce. And thanks also to Beth Rosenbarger from the city of Bloomington and Lew May from the City of Bloomington's public transportation corporation. For Bente Bouthier and Mike Paskash, our producer and engineer, I'm Bob Zaltsberg. Thanks for listening. 

0:52:02:>>ERIN PREDMORE: Thanks. 

0:52:02:(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 

0:52:10:>>UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Noon Edition is a production of WFIU Public Radio. A podcast of this program and other WFIU programs is available at WFIU.org. Production support for Noon Edition comes from Smithville - fiber internet, streaming TV, home security and automation in southern Indiana. More information at Smithville.com. And from the Herald Times, featuring coverage of local news, entertainment and sports. In print at HeraldTimesOnline.com and on your mobile device. And from the Bloomington Health Foundation partnering with local organizations and citizens to invest in programs that address our community's health needs. Bloomington Health Foundation - improving health and well-being takes a community. More at BloomHF.org. 

0:53:00:(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Bloomington Transit bus

(Adam Pinsker, WFIU/WTIU News)

Noon Edition airs on Fridays at noon on WFIU.

This week, the Bloomington Transit Corporation board listened to a proposal to change 12 routes, reducing services during times of day when ridership is down.

Reduced services could be replaced with Microtransit” service, which would allow users to call a bus with an “app”, similar to Uber and Lyft.

 Bloomington Transit officials say the bus system isn’t saving any money because of these changes, instead its reallocating busses to routes that have more demand.

The proposed changes will be voted on next month.

Bloomington Transit completed a route optimization study in July.  The consulting firm that conducted the study has recommended changes to the bus system that will create more direct, on-time routes, and the changes will affect every route in the BT bus network.

The study and proposals for change are in response to a ridership decline of 15 percent over the last four years.

Bloomington officials also worked in 2019 to create a more comprehensive transportation plan to enhance connectivity and accessibility throughout the city.  

Join us this week on Friday as we discuss coming changes to Bloomington's bus routes and the city's transportation needs.

You can follow us on Twitter @NoonEdition or join us on the air by calling in at 812-855-0811 or toll-free at 1-877-285-9348. You can also send us questions for the show at news@indianapublicmedia.org.

Our Guests

Lew May, Bloomington Public Transportation Corporation general manager

Beth Rosenbarger, City of Bloomington, planning services manager

Erin Predmore, The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, president and CEO

 

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