MTD plans fee hike, line expansion
CHAMPAIGN — Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District board members are looking at a proposed budget for the year beginning July 1 that includes a major service expansion in west Champaign, an increase in the cost of an annual pass and implementation of a trial, one-month pass.
A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 3 p.m. May 29 at the Illinois Terminal in downtown Champaign. But the MTD board likely will not act on the spending plan until sometime in the summer.
The $34 million spending plan, up from this year's $31.7 million budget, assumes a 2 percent wage increase for MTD employees, a 10 percent increase in health insurance costs, a $310,000 increase in costs related to the federal Affordable Care Act and a 40-cent increase in diesel fuel costs.
The federal health care law will increase costs to the MTD through mandated coverage for approximately 60 employees who work between 30 and 40 hours a week but now get no health care coverage. They will come under the law on Jan. 1.
The biggest increased cost, though, would be year-round, expanded service on the high-frequency Greenhopper route that connects Champaign and Urbana and runs through the University of Illinois campus. The Greenhopper, with its 15-minute service, now runs only during the UI's main academic year and goes only as far as Prospect Avenue in Champaign.
Under the service expansion plan, the Greenhopper would run year-round, Mondays through Saturdays and evenings, and would operate as far west as the Country Fair area of Champaign. The expanded service would cost an estimated $460,000 to $470,000 a year.
At Country Fair, the Greenhopper would connect to several other MTD routes serving west Champaign, including a new unnamed route that will serve the Stephens Family YMCA, the Glenshire subdivision, Horizon Hobby, a proposed Champaign County Housing Authority development and the Windsor at the Crossing retail center.
The Greenhopper expansion still needs approval of the MTD board, although the service to the YMCA and other destinations has been approved.
Linda Bauer, an MTD board member from Urbana, endorsed the Greenhopper expansion at an MTD board meeting Wednesday.
"We have a great bus service, and I want it to be great not just (in the UI campus area)," she said. "There are costs involved, but if we can absorb them, I'm all for it. I like some of these recommendations for raising revenue, too. I think it's important that people who are working, people without cars, young people, they need good bus service, too, out in the outlying areas."
On the revenue side, the MTD budget assumes an increase in the cost of a yearly pass from $60 to $72, a one-year trial of a $15 monthly pass, a property tax levy increase next year of as much as 4.9 percent and an increase in advertising rates. The budget also assumes that, for the first time, MTD employees will contribute to the cost of their health care coverage at a rate of 2 percent of gross wages.
The biggest uncertainty on the revenue side is the level of state support, a figure that probably won't be known until early June, after the Legislature has approved next year's state budget. The state provides about two-thirds of the MTD's operating budget, but Gov. Pat Quinn has proposed a cut in operating assistance this year.
"Instead of a 10 percent increase from 2013, it is basically a 10 percent decrease and takes us back two years," said MTD Managing Director Bill Volk.
Also Wednesday, the MTD board learned that March ridership was up 8 percent from a year earlier to 1.16 million passengers and that preliminary totals for April are that the system carried its second-greatest monthly total ever. Final figures are not available, but the MTD's record monthly total is 1.39 million last October.