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NORMAL — Twin City residents someday may be able to point to an Uber-like "micro-transit" service and solar panels on the roof of Uptown Station knowing they originated 4,000 miles away.

Those were among ideas floated for Bloomington-Normal after its mayors attended the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, a gathering of municipal executives held June 28 to July 1 in Honolulu.

"It's invaluable to any mayor who wants to be effective, because you can't make decisions that are microscopic in isolation from what the real world is doing," said Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner.

"The only difference between a big city and a small city is commas and zeroes. The core issues are the same," said Normal Mayor Chris Koos.

Renner and Koos both sit on the conference's transportation committee, meaning they focus on issues like public transit and travel infrastructure. One idea that caught Renner's attention was micro-transit, a possible alternative, or addition to, bus services like the Twin Cities' oft-debated Connect Transit.

"The basic idea is a small van that will respond to an app if people need to go from one bus stop to another between when buses would normally appear," said Renner. "I don't know if it's appropriate for us, but we'll pass it on to the work group looking at the service."

The system's Connect Mobility service for the elderly and disabled follows a similar model.

"There was a lot of discussion of transit and how it fits in a 21st century city," said Koos. "We'll be thinking about how to take a holistic approach to Connect Transit."

Koos attended not only the annual meeting but the Climate Mayors Summit the day before.

"I'd like to explore solar on the roof of Uptown Station parking deck to make city hall carbon neutral ... and the same thing on the College Avenue deck to see if we can power the water treatment plant," he said. "We're already doing a baseline greenhouse gas assessment for the community."

Renner said he also learned more at the meeting about the 2020 census. He hopes to establish a census task force for the Twin Cities.

"We need to convey to our community how critical it is to respond, not only because of how much money you get from other governments and legislative representation... but how we deliver services," said Renner. "The more accurate the census, the better the services, the better the next decade of society will be."

Koos said he'll also be watching how much control cities have over their right-of-way when telecommunications companies are looking to install infrastructure for 5G — faster cellular data networks.

The city and town paid for each mayor's trip. Renner's travel costs included $1,924.50 for hotel stays and $1,018 for airfare; Koos' costs were about $2,700 total, including $1,050 for flights.

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

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