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A Connect Transit bus arrives March 26 at Uptown Station in Normal. 

BLOOMINGTON — The Bloomington City Council is considering a proposal to explore ways to offset fare increases for Connect Mobility bus riders if Connect Transit's working group determines the fee hikes are needed.

The bus system's on-demand service is used by many who are elderly and/or disabled and unable to use regular bus transportation.

At a work session last week, a majority of the council members did not want to reject Connect Transit's budget as a way of prompting the bus system's board to reverse eliminating the Olive route on July 1 and and start four years of fare increases on Oct. 1.

Critics have said those changes hurt disabled riders on the Olive route, especially those who live near Orlando Avenue and Northbrook Drive in north Normal, and low-income riders who can't afford to pay more for vital transportation.

"Trying to capture the opinions of what I heard (from Bloomington council members), there was tremendous value in allowing the Connect Transit working group the ability to do what it's been tasked to do," said Gleason on Friday. "Even though it's been 12 years since there has been a fare increase, there are strong feelings on the part of my council — not just for the fixed rate, but especially for the mobility fare — not to increase.

"And my council is of a mind that if the working group comes back with the opinion that a fare increase does need to happen, we are prepared to hold the mobility fare at the current rate even if that means an additional funding portion would be required by the city," he said.

The city contributes $1.2 million for Connect Transit's operations and capital expenses while Normal provides $878,000 annually. The system has a $13.7 million budget for the new fiscal year, including $8.8 million in state money.

The city's proposal includes creating a reserve fund to pay for the smaller buses to stop at the doors of mobility riders during inclement weather.

Mayor Tari Renner supports the resolution.

"I think it codifies the sentiment on the council that we want to be good intergovernmental partners in moving forward and working with the town of Normal and Connect Transit to improve services and with the work group that just started," said Renner. "I think it is important for us to back the recommendations that the work group comes up with ... but people who are the most vulnerable are not people we can ignore or cast aside. I think we have to step up to the plate."

The working group is expected to finish around October, "and I think that gives us plenty of time to examine all of the options that are on the table and their costs," the mayor added.

As far as the Olive route, "we also as a city have a specific interest, not necessarily in the Olive route itself, but in not diminishing the access that residents at (Orlando-Northbrook) currently have, which in fact falls on the Olive route," said Gleason.

"We don't want the residents at Orlando-Northbrook to be impacted negatively," he added. "If that is a Pink route deviation or a reconsideration of the Olive route, then let the working group consider things that probably (Connect Transit is) hearing for the first time ever these past few months," 

That change is expected to be cost-neutral and run every two hours, versus the hourly Olive stop. The Olive route's elimination is planned to proceed on July 1. 

Contact Maria Nagle at (309) 820-3244. Follow her on Twitter: @Pg_Nagle

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Bloomington Reporter

Bloomington reporter for The Pantagraph.

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