Request for bus service reignites conflict between districts

Request for bus service reignites conflict between districts

CHAMPAIGN — After a brief lull following a court ruling that favored neither side, Champaign-Urbana's transit war is heating up again.

This time it's over a request from the new Champaign County YMCA and the Windsor West Apartments complex, both in southwest Champaign, for more bus service.

The problem is, the properties are in the Champaign Southwest Mass Transit District, which does not offer bus service, and just outside the much larger Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District, which does.

The apartment complex already pays the larger MTD $8,000 a year for limited service.

"The problem long term for us," said C-U MTD director Bill Volk, "and I'm not talking two to five years but 20 to 50 years, is that it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to start contracting with folks individually because (the Champaign Southwest's) district takes up a large area. The whole concept of public transit is to give service to an entire community, not just those who can afford it."

The YMCA has not contracted for service although its director, Mark Johnson, said that the lack of bus service is the top complaint among its customers.

Edward Vaughan Jr., the chairman of the Champaign Southwest MTD board, said the larger MTD should help the YMCA by running more buses down Windsor Road, which is a few hundreds yards north of the YMCA.

"The CUMTD is supposed to be serving the citizens of Champaign," Vaughan said. "So how are you going to get these people to this facility that is supposed to be for the whole community's benefit? I think it would be darn sure correct to get people there, yes. Can the Southwest District do it? Of course not. We don't have enough money to pay one bus driver's salary."

The Champaign Southwest district, which was formed by voter approval in 2006 to block the expansion of the larger MTD, gets all of its revenue from an annual property tax levy of $39,000. It has $51,227 in its treasury.

"Is it our responsibility to go into Champaign and pay to bring those people into a facility in our area, or is it their responsibility to see that they can get them here? Are we responsible for getting Champaign residents and bringing them into our district?" Vaughan asked. "There is some dual responsibility there, but I think it is much more on their part, with a $42 million budget versus a $39,000 annual tax levy."

He said the larger MTD should "transport them to our boundary line (the south side of Windsor Road) and we'll see what we can do from the line. They can transport them to Fields South Drive and Windsor. That's in their district."

That, said Volk, is the nub of the problem.

"That statement by itself indicates the problem of two mass transit districts," he said. "When you have artificial lines in transportation that just creates a problem. That's why we have an interstate system that connects the whole system. It wasn't something that Indiana built and then it stops at the state line and then Illinois decides what they want to do."

Even if the YMCA situation is resolved, Volk said, "this is going to come up again. This is not the only thing that's going to be built out there where Southwest is going to say, 'Folks want to go out there so you should provide the service.'

"It points to the basic problem. We have to have revenue to provide service to folks. This just highlights the basic flaw in having two mass transit districts in a small community."

Vaughan said he urged representatives of the YMCA and Windsor West to attend the next meeting of the MTD board.

"The squeaking wheel gets attention," he said.

"I don't know how our board will react to this thing," Volk said. "In the past, our concern has been the long-term aspect. There may be a short-term solution, I don't know. But in the long term, the existence of two mass transit districts is a problem."

He also said he was "amused" by the suggestion that the MTD increase service to the YMCA, which is on the fringe of its service area.

"Then we'll be open to criticism that our buses are empty," he said. "Vaughan is suggesting that we offer more service to the Y because they want more service and then they'll criticize us because the buses on the edge of town will be empty. All of our buses on the edge of town are empty. It's just the nature of the beast."

Last year, the Illinois Supreme Court declined to consider an appeal of a Champaign County Circuit Court decision that found that the two mass transit districts could operate simultaneously. That was followed by a private meeting among officials from both districts that later was described by Vaughan as "very cordial," although nothing resulted from it.

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MadGasser wrote on April 19, 2012 at 8:04 am
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When will this "Southwest MTD" just throw in the towel? It doesn't offer any bus service and never will. The "board" needs to abandon all attempts at creating another district in Southwest Champaign.

whatithink wrote on April 19, 2012 at 8:04 am

$39,000 annually from taxes approved in 2006.  So, if they started collecting for the year 2007, they have collected $156,000 in  taxes, but yet only have $51,000 in treasury.  So, what happened to the other $105,000?  Costs of operating a non-existent service, fuel, maintanence to buses that don't exist? 

Beenthere Donethat wrote on April 19, 2012 at 1:04 pm

That money went to the lawyers to keep the buses and the people who ride them out of SWC.

Ellen Finch wrote on April 19, 2012 at 9:04 am

I'm confused...They didn't want the MTD to expand into their area, so they voted to form a new one that offers no service, and now they want service from the MTD they blocked?


ClearVision wrote on April 23, 2012 at 12:04 pm

You've got it. Welcome to Illinois.

mankind wrote on April 19, 2012 at 9:04 am

I think the SWMTD should win an award for finding a novel way to do something humanity has been striving to do for centuries -- getting paid to do nothing. It's funny to hear the chairman gripe about the $39,000 tax levy when in fact a tax levy of one dime would be more than they deserve. Until you put a single tire on the road in the name of mass transit, spare us your thoughts on how MTD should go about transporting people. SWMTD knows nothing about mass transit. They are a paper tiger created solely to prevent mass transit. They should strip the "MT" out of their name entirely. I don't know what they'd rename themselves but it would have something to do with milking people's anxieties. Maybe some entrepreneurial type can follow their lead. So, okay, big, belching, empty buses are being dealt with. Hey, I don't want Disney to build a theme park over there, either. Give me your money and I'll buy a big piece of land and promise never to sell it to Disney. Give me some more money for my efforts and I'll promise never to sell it to a landfill, either.

rsp wrote on April 19, 2012 at 9:04 am

It's been six years, isn't it time to start buying some buses, planning the routes? Who do I call about a bus pass? What exactly have they been doing in those meetings for six years? No, seriously, have any of them been on a bus since grade school? 

Beenthere Donethat wrote on April 19, 2012 at 1:04 pm

They don't need buses.  They have money for BMW, mercedes, et and money for 4.00 a gallon gas.  They trying to keep people of the SWC who cannot afford a big house and a luxury car.

Chazman wrote on April 19, 2012 at 1:04 pm
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What a joke - a Mass Transit District that doesn't actually provide bus service is preventing another district that actually DOES provide service from being able to do so.  How in the world were enough people able to stand behind the SWMTD to get it voted in?  It's a sad testament to our community that situations this ridiculous are even able to occur in the first place.  I certainly feel for the people that live in the apartments and/or frequent the YMCA that are being forced to rely on private transportation because a select few (who probably wouldn't use public transit anyway) stand in the way. 

RamNation wrote on April 19, 2012 at 2:04 pm

 The complaint was that the Neighborhoods in SW Champaign did not want Bus service running into their neighborhoods (on the more active roads (Duncan, Curtis, etc) was not a huge issue,   however the CU-MTD expanded anyway, and now they claim, All of our buses on the edge of town are empty. It's just the nature of the beast." Then why expanf into a territory where the service is not cost effective in the least....

Amanda Baker wrote on April 19, 2012 at 2:04 pm
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The thing is that the buses are not actually empty. They are empier toward the edge of the service line than they are on campus (duh). But now that the town is expanding, demand has increased, but SWMTD is denying service to those who want/need it (aka the new apts and the Y), for no other reason than to keep CUMTD out, not to actualy provide service to those who want/need it.


Feltrino wrote on April 19, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Sounds like a bad place to build a Y or develop apartments to me.

Amanda Baker wrote on April 19, 2012 at 4:04 pm
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Actually, it's a fantastic place to develop both. And with cooperation of the SWMTD (in other words, disband) and CUMTD it could be a very viable direction in which the city of Champaign can expand and flourish.

SWMTD is sending a very clear message that they don't want anyone who wants/needs to ride a bus to live or work in SW Champaign, and I find that extremely disappointing.

AreaMan wrote on April 19, 2012 at 3:04 pm
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A Mass Transit District that cannot afford to hire a single driver?  Laughable, man.

texasdoug wrote on April 19, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Sorry's all about property values and keeping undesireables out of those pricey neighborhoods west of I-57.

Brad Cortright wrote on April 20, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Forget the Generic Bus, the Champaign Southwest MTD has the Invisible Bus.  It not only costs nothing but also keeps the "undesirables" out.  Chalk one up for upper income, white people.