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NORMAL — Jen Morsch is hopeful but not optimistic a new committee of Connect Transit board members and others to be created next month can bring the changes she wants from the Bloomington-Normal bus system.

"I think it's good if it will have an impact, but I wasn't super clear as to how it will work," said Morsch, a blind bus rider and member of Citizens to Ensure Fair Transit, a group of community members stumping for improvements to Connect Transit.

"I still feel like we're on opposite sides. It sounds to me like they've made up their minds," she continued. "But we're going to continue to speak out."

CEFT did that Tuesday as about 50 community members attended Connect Transit's regular board meeting, and several continued to protest recently approved fare hikes effective Oct. 1 and the termination of the Olive route July 1.

Morsch, who uses the system's Connect Mobility on-demand service, encouraged the board to look for more funding rather than follow through with the planned elimination of the 30-day unlimited pass. That's part of several price increases scheduled to take effect over the next four years.

"There need to be other ways of funding this ... that aren't reaching into the pockets of those who are barely struggling to make it," said Cara McMorris, associate pastor at Hope United Methodist Church in Bloomington. "We have the finances in the Twin Cities, we have the ability to make this one of their basic needs that is just already met."

Connect Transit General Manager Isaac Thorne and board members said they're fighting to keep the system fiscally viable with rising costs and stagnant federal funding — though the Olive cut was about efficiency rather than saving money.

"Budget decisions unfortunately always have people consequences," said Terry Lindberg, a resident who spoke in defense of the board. "I don't think anybody thought the 2007 rates would stay the same forever. ... I commend this board for listening to the citizens' concerns."

In response to criticism, the board is forming a community working group to examine the system's situation and make its own recommendations, possibly as soon as October.

That group will be approved May 14, with board member Judy Buchanan leading it and board member Julie Hile contributing. Mike McCurdy, the board's chair, said the group's membership will be revealed then but it will include some representation from riders.

Commenters continued to push changing the makeup of the Connect Transit board, including across income and racial lines. Members are appointed by Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner and Normal Mayor Chris Koos.

Normal City Council member-elect Stan Nord, one of several public officials to attend the meeting, said he opposes the changes and wants to see a vacant seat from Normal filled by someone who will listen to riders' issues. He suggested Marc Tiritilli, who said he's applied for the post.

"(It) appears you're not low-income bus riders, yet you have complete authority to decide who gets transit service and how much they pay for it," said Connie Kelly of Normal. "Continuing on an unsuccessful course is madness. I hope you turn this bus around."

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

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