NORMAL — Even with about 50 people rallying Monday in uptown Normal for better Connect Transit service, speakers noted their numbers could have been much bigger.
"I'm here today because many of them can't be here. They can't just show up when they want to do something," said Cara McMorris, associate pastor at Hope Church in Bloomington. "This is a lifeline, and it is needed, and we have to stop removing these routes."
The crowd gathered outside Uptown Station to protest fare hikes and a route cut approved last month by the Bloomington-Normal bus system's board.
Critics also are pushing for more diverse representation on the board, including across income and racial lines, and more transit spending following years of route cuts.
Attendees chanted, "The bus is a lifeline, not a choice."
"People who are on fixed incomes or working with a disability should not have to make a choice between basic things they need like groceries, medication and getting to places they need to go," said Jen Morsch.
Morsch said she's among those upset by changes to Connect Mobility, the system's on-demand service for disabled people, which will no longer have a 30-day unlimited pass in October. The system's base fare also will rise then.
Joel Studebaker said he's disturbed by the system cutting the Olive route, which ends in July. Officials have said the route serving north Normal is underused, but Studebaker said his neighbors, some of whom are on fixed incomes, rely on it.
"I'm lucky enough that when I miss (the bus), I can call an Uber or Lyft and get where I need to go, but not everybody in our community has that benefit," he said. "I've watched as people who live in my neighborhood, people who live in my building, have been cut off from the things that they need by these transit cuts."
Normal Township Supervisor Sarah Grammer, who's called for Connect Transit's board to be recalled — and was subsequently criticized by Normal Mayor Chris Koos for aiming to "demean and vilify community partners" — said the community's priorities are out of whack.
"Why are we at the same time (giving businesses incentives) and raising rates on people with disabilities and people who are impoverished in order for them to have access to our community via transit?" she said. "I don't think that adds up."
Some protesters plan to attend the transit board meeting at 4:30 p.m. April 23 at Connect Transit, 351 Wylie Drive in Normal. They sat in on Monday's meeting of Normal City Council — though they couldn't address the council because no related item was on Monday's agenda.