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NORMAL - City buses will continue making trips to and from Normal Community High School this spring, but on a scaled-back schedule.

The Bloomington-Normal Public Transit System trustees voted to reduce the number of runs to NCHS early in the day and to eliminate downtown Bloomington from the NCHS route. The realigned route will start and end at Eastland Mall and include stops at the Shoppes at College Hills and NCHS.

The changes take effect Jan. 17.

In other business, the board learned the Stuff the Bus charity drive collected hundreds of donations, but it did not meet last year's tally. The transit system also ended a local program to help Hurricane Katrina evacuees because few people used it.

The NCHS route changes came because transit officials saw a lack of early riders on the route.

"It's not being used. It's just an empty run," said Pete Weber, transit general manager.

His staff tracked usage of the routes Nov. 14 to 18, and again Dec. 5 to 9. Findings included no one boarding or departing the bus on the 6:30 a.m. and 7:45 a.m. runs; and no one boarding or departing in downtown Bloomington.

The lack of participation didn't surprise Weber, he said.

"Most of those kids (who would use the downtown Bloomington stop) don't go to NCHS," he said.

Trustee Ron Hill commended the transit system for stepping up to begin the trips to NCHS.

"We responded to the community" when the issue came up as a need, then followed up and evaluated the participation, he said.

In another matter, the board learned the transit system's annual Stuff the Bus campaign brought in more than 330 toys, more than a dozen clothing items, and about 400 food donations.

Money donated through Salvation Army buckets in the front of the buses hasn't been tallied yet, said, Melanie Alloway, transit system marketing director.

The holiday charity drive was less successful than last year, she said. In 2004, the transit system collected about 800 toys and 500 food donations.

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Stuff the Bus ran from Dec. 5 to 9. A lower turnout might be attributed to a major snowstorm and cold temperatures that hit the Twin Cities during that period, she said.

Also, many holiday charity events have reported lower donations this year, she said. Many people attribute that to the donations already having been directed to help victims of this summer's hurricanes in the South.

The transit system also dismantled an assistance program for Hurricane Katrina evacuees living in the Twin Cities.

The program - which provided free bus passes to those individuals - was established Oct. 1, with the stipulation the board would review the idea in December.

Four passes were distributed for October, but never used. No requests followed, said Weber.

He believes the lack of interest stems from most evacuees in Central Illinois arriving here with means for transportation.

The board also was reminded buses won't operate Dec. 26 and Jan. 2 for holiday observations.

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