NORMAL — Heartland Community College students, part-time workers and other night owls could soon have another way to get home in the evening.
Connect Transit is considering extending service hours on fixed-route buses from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. as soon as July 1 in response to customer feedback.
One route, the Redbird Express that circles the Illinois State University campus, already runs until 3 a.m. every day, but riders frequently request other buses run later as well, said Isaac Thorne, general manager for the Bloomington-Normal bus system.
"People who take the bus to work but work late may not have a way to get home, or they may not have a way to get to work if they work a late shift," he told the system's board Tuesday. "Some (Heartland) students have class until 8:30 or 9, take the bus to uptown and discover that's as far as they can go."
To avoid increasing costs, the system would need to cut service elsewhere, however. That could affect frequency — how often buses run.
Officials are considering two scenarios: extending the hours of all buses, or extending the hours of only the four busiest routes — green, lime, red and yellow, which reach uptown Normal, downtown Bloomington, Heartland, Normal's Walmart and Eastland Mall. Sunday hours would not change.
"We hear (this idea) consistently from Illinois State students, primarily who work in part-time jobs and get stranded with no way home," said Normal City Manager Mark Peterson, who sits on the Connect Transit board. "But with frequency, it's hard to pit one against the other. They're both important."
Officials will decide whether to make a change as part of Connect Transit's next budget, which they hope to finalize by April 1. The budget takes effect July 1, the beginning of the system's next fiscal year.
The system also may add a penalty, possibly monetary, for Connect Mobility customers who request a ride but don't show up and don't cancel, in the new budget. Connect Mobility is an on-demand service for the elderly and infirm.
In other business, the board discussed plans to build a new transfer station in downtown Bloomington.
Thorne said such a facility could cost $13.5 million, and the system has $6 million in reserves that could be used for the project alongside federal, state or private dollars.
Thorne told the board he hopes to get site suggestions from the city within four months, begin a state-funded six-month feasibility study this summer and open the facility within three to five years.
The project would not involve moving Connect Transit's offices to downtown Bloomington despite offices being built in the new facility. Thorne said officials would like to add to the system's presence at Uptown Station in a similar way.