In Bloomington Normal, public transport passenger traffic has not returned to pre-pandemic levels with the economy reopening.
Connect Transit restored tariffs on June 1 after passengers had ridden for free for the past 15 months to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The agency also increased the fixed-route tariff from $ 1 to $ 1.25.
The total number of Connect Transit passengers in June was almost the same as it was in June 2020 at nearly 110,000, but it’s a 25% decrease from June 2019 when about 147,000 passengers rode the bus.
Trustee chairman Ryan Whitehouse said it could take some time to fully recover.
“Our numbers are coming back, but we still have some headroom,” said Whitehouse. “I am confident that we will get there.”
The number of passengers using Connect Transit’s on-demand service, Connect Mobility, has increased by 80% compared to the previous year, but is still below the pre-pandemic level.
Whitehouse said the transportation authority expected to emerge from the pandemic on a solid financial footing.
Connect Transit expects to receive a total of $ 15 million in COVID relief through the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan. This would cover the cost of free rides and health and safety improvements over the next few years, including additional cleaning and maintenance staff and plexiglass behind the driver’s seat on every bus.
“Financially, we are in one of the best locations we have ever seen so there will be no long-term financial implications in the short term,” said Whitehouse.
Whitehouse warned it was not clear what long-term trends in public transport passenger traffic could emerge.
Some neighbors say they are concerned about the noise and light pollution a bus transfer center near downtown Bloomington could bring. Connect Transit plans to study the environmental impact of the proposed $ 20 million project at the former Pantagraph site.
Whitehouse said he understands these concerns are legitimate.
“We will try to mute the noises and noises as much as possible, but I hope that we can be a good partner, a good neighbor for the community, and the benefits will outweigh the possible negative side effects some of the neighbors have Whitehouse said.
Whitehouse said the study could take up to two years, adding that the transfer center opening would not be ready until 2023 at the earliest, as Connect Transit has yet to buy the property. He said the full scope of the renovation has not yet been determined.
“Better bus stops”
Connect Transit plans to improve accessibility at 51 of its bus stops in Bloomington this summer.
Whitehouse said it was part of the Transportation Agency’s Better Bus Stops for Bloomington-Normal campaign.
“If we can do this in 2024, we will be the only transportation system in the United States that has 100% ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) disability stops, a tremendous achievement,” he said.
Whitehouse noted that the campaign started in 2018. Connect Transit has nearly 440 bus stops in Bloomington-Normal. The Connect Transit website will contain an interactive map showing the progress of the construction of bus stops.
Connect Transit hopes to hire a new director in August, according to Whitehouse. He said a recruitment consultant helped the transit agency process more than 10 applicants for the position. He said the transit board is reduced to two finalists.
Isaac Thorne resigned as general manager last August to take a job in transit in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Former Normal City manager Mark Peterson serves as the interim GM.