Three Connect Transit buses pull away from their stops at the Law and Justice Center in downtown Bloomington in May. The bus system is looking at increasing its fixed-route fare from $1 per ride to $1.25 on July 1. 

NORMAL — Riders could soon pay more to use Connect Transit buses.

The Bloomington-Normal public transit system is looking at increasing its fixed-route fare from $1 per ride to $1.25 on July 1. That's one of a few hikes that may take effect this summer, with more planned through 2022, when the base fare would hit $1.50, if the system's board signs off this spring.

"We haven't increased the one-way fare in 12 years," said Connect Transit General Manager Isaac Thorne. "I want to caution the public this is a proposal. The board won't be voting on any changes until March at a public hearing."

The system also plans to host at least six public feedback sessions on the proposed changes before the public hearing, said Thorne. They were discussed at a Tuesday board work session.

"We're going to do our best to get (information on the sessions) on all the buses and on social media," he said. "The more people we get to engagement sessions, the better."

Prices for Connect Mobility, the system's on-demand service for elderly and disabled riders, would increase at the same rate — from $2 per trip now to $2.50 this summer, then to $3 by 2022. That service is heavily subsidized.

One-day, seven-day and 30-day passes for fixed-route service and 30-day passes for Connect Mobility also would increase in price. Those are now $3, $10, $32 and $65, respectively and would rise to $3, $10, $36 and $70 in July; and would hit $4, $12, $40 and $75 in 2022 under the plan.

Mike McCurdy, chair of Connect Transit's board, noted that the staff is looking into whether it's possible to cap ride fares so an individual is not charged after he or she has spent $36 in a single month.

"We want to keep it more affordable for people in our community who are unable to afford a monthly pass upfront," said Thorne.

Board member John Bowman said he fears the policy will be "paternalistic."

"I would not want to see us spend a lot of money to pursue fare equity," he said. "Even $60 a month (for Connect Mobility) is a bargain over maintaining a personal vehicle, insurance, depreciation and gas cost."

Connect Transit also could end its olive route as part of budget adjustments in July. That route serves north Normal, including Walmart and OSF Fort Jesse Medical Center, but transit officials think those areas would be better served by increasing frequency on the lime and red routes.

The red also goes to Walmart and would be extended to go to OSF Fort Jesse. Both routes would receive a new express option running every 15 minutes that would help alleviate a crush of passengers going to Walmart, said Thorne, while still saving more than $100,000 per year.

"There's a large group of ridership at (Orlando) Northbrook Estates, Walmart and OSF, but in between there's hardly any ridership at all," said Thorne of cutting the Olive route, a $500,000-plus savings. "Customers in Orlando Northbrook can still walk to the yellow route, which is 15-minute service."

Normal City Manager Pam Reece said she's concerned about residents of that neighborhood walking to Raab Road or Main Street to board a bus. Constitution Trail runs between Orlando Avenue and Raab, but officials noted it's not always usable.

Bowman said he's disturbed by how much service the system has cut overall.

"It bothers me we've taken the approach we allow routes to fail without making adjustments ... to make them perform better," he said. "We've cut out areas of the community that pay a disproportionate share of the expenses."

McCurdy responded that the system is "fishing where the fish are," bringing greater frequency and more routes where riders are.

"You're not going to find full buses on the east side (of Bloomington)" regardless of what Connect Transit does, he said.

Board member Judy Buchanan said the system is "being much more responsible at this point in terms of using taxpayer dollars wisely and serving the customer base that's out there" than it was in the past.

Thorne said officials also are looking out for wage, health insurance and fuel cost increases for the new budget that starts July 1.

He noted Connect Transit remains in good financial shape despite the ongoing federal government shutdown. The system relies on local sales tax money but also receives some state and federal funding, including federal grants.

"If this (shutdown) continues for six or eight months, that's when we really get concerned and would have to look at alternative forms of funding like a line of credit," said Thorne.

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


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