NORMAL — Twin City bus riders could get a few more months with current fares.

Connect Transit's board will consider next month postponing fee hikes scheduled for Oct. 1, giving up some revenue from the Bloomington-Normal bus system but allowing a "working group" of community members more time to make recommendations about the system's future.

In a related matter Tuesday, the board decided after some debate to hire a facilitator for the working group for as much as $53,425.

Board Chair Mike McCurdy took an informal straw poll at the end of Tuesday's meeting and asked General Manager Isaac Thorne and his staff to put together a detailed delay proposal for the next regular meeting on July 23.

"This will give the working group time to do their job and the facilitator more time to write write the final report," said McCurdy. "It will give the board more time to consider the report and forward it to the city councils." 

The working group will meet monthly, starting this Saturday, into fall. Bloomington City Council members said Monday they want results by Dec. 1.

That followed the board approving a tweak to the Pink route to serve Orlando Northbrook Estates in Normal every 30 minutes to make up for the Olive route ending July 1.

The board also appointed one more member to the working group and hired the facilitator — a move that was criticized by board member John Bowman and Citizens to Ensure Fair Transit, an advocacy group whose criticism of fare hikes and the Olive cut helped spur the working group.

"Connect Transit is going to pay a facilitator $53,000 for six sessions of meetings with people they appointed to write a report of recommendations to themselves about fare increases they already approved," said Citizens to Ensure Fair Transit on its Facebook page.

Bowman voted "no" on the hiring of nonprofit Smart Growth America. Tuesday was his last meeting as a board member.

"We talk about financial concerns of the system, and yet ... How do we justify the expenditure?" he said. "We could have accomplished much the same thing by listening to the voice of the community without the cost."

Board Vice Chair Ryan Whitehouse objected to the idea the board isn't listening.

"It is unfair to have our motives questioned, our intelligence questioned and to be told time and time again that we are not listening because we arrive at a different opinion than you," he said. "It is my job as a trustee to make sure the financial stability of this organization stays."

McCurdy said that interchange showed why the working group needs a facilitator.

"I think we all had some sticker shock when we saw that," said board member Monica Bullington of the facilitator's cost. "We see this as an investment in trying to listen. ... The community is screaming for fairness, and the appeal to me of this is the ability to provide some fairness. We're not pushing an agenda, and there's not an agenda being pushed on us."

Bullington noted Connect Transit will be looking to the city of Bloomington and town of Normal, which oversee and fund the system, to help fund the facilitator. Bloomington City Manager Tim Gleason and Normal City Manager Pam Reece said they expect their councils will be willing to help.

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


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