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051819-blm-loc-1transit

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

NORMAL — Connect Transit is addressing one of the loudest criticisms from those who dislike its plan to end the Olive route next month.

The Bloomington-Normal bus system plans to add a section to its pink route to pick up passengers from the Orlando-Northbrook area, a low-income area of Normal that is home to many people with limited mobility, after residents said they may not be able to get to a Yellow route stop in front of the Illinois State University Alumni Center, about a half-mile away on Main Street.

The system's board will consider that change June 25, a week before it would start alongside the Olive route's elimination July 1. It's expected to be cost-neutral and run every two hours, versus hourly for the Olive now.

"This is great alternative for those individuals who say they can't access Main Street from Orlando Northbrook," said General Manager Isaac Thorne.

That was part of a broad presentation on the system from Thorne and other officials to Normal City Council on Monday in response to community blowback after the transit board voted in March to stop the Olive route July 1 and to start four years of fare hikes in October.

"If you're looking for us to be adversarial with our partners, it's not going to happen," said Normal council member Chemberly Cummings on Monday. "We are working together."

Connect Transit still plans to increase fares, but that could change depending on the conclusions reached by a "working group" of community members who will examine the system's present and future into the fall, said Thorne.

Council member Kevin McCarthy called on local governmental bodies besides the city and town to fund the system, including McLean County and township governments. Illinois State University and Heartland Community College have contracts with the system that pay for unlimited student access to fixed-route buses.

Thorne noted Connect Transit's base fixed-route fare hasn't increased since 2007, though critics have said the hikes will fund the system at the expense of those community members who can least afford to pay.

Connect Transit gets two-thirds of its funding from the state, some from the federal government and the remainder from Bloomington and Normal.

Critics including a group called Citizens to Ensure Fair Transit have also pushed for a transit-dependent rider, possibly a low-income or disabled resident, to serve on the board. Normal Mayor Chris Koos has still not filled a vacancy on the board that opened last fall.

Cummings suggested those who are interested in helping but not chosen for the board get involved in the Community Transportation Advisory Committee, a group of riders who meet with Thorne every other month to give feedback.

Council member Stan Nord and Koos clashed on how deeply the council should manage the system after Nord challenged the system's decision to stop serving some areas on the Olive route.

"We're not going to micromanage routes here tonight," said Koos."We're taking a policy approach to this, and this (working) group is going to work forward."

Nord responded the council shouldn't have needed to get involved in the issue, but residents raised it from the transit board to the council's attention.

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Contact Derek Beigh at (309) 820-3234. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_beigh

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