Official: MTD's estimates inflated

Official: MTD's estimates inflated

But bus service says district pays for access others don't get

CHAMPAIGN — A Champaign school board member is accusing the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District of "gouging" the school district in its cost estimates for busing students to the proposed Central High School site north of Interstate Drive.

As the district prepares to renew its contract with the MTD for this school year, John Bambenek also called on administrators to look at other ways to bus students in coming school years.

"I understand this year our options are limited, but next year whether it's another vendor or some other arrangement, I would like an option other than the MTD to provide bus service for our children," Bambenek said at Monday's school district budget hearing.

In a report on the long-range costs of the new school site, the MTD had estimated that twice as many students would qualify for bus service to the new high school because of its more isolated location, in comparison to Central's current home on University Avenue. That would require the transit district to extend its routes and add more buses, at an estimated cost of $700,000 annually. And the MTD said it would have to acquire six more buses, at a cost of $4.2 million.

The school district buses students in kindergarten through fifth grade, and contracts with MTD to bus middle school and high school students who qualify for bus service.

It currently pays MTD just over $315,000.

According to Bambenek, 797 more students would be eligible for busing at the Interstate site, on top of the 2,588 eligible now. The district could buy a $72 annual bus pass for all of them and still come out ahead — a total cost of $243,720, he said. Even providing a bus pass for all 9,600 students in the district would cost about $691,200, less than the MTD's $700,000 estimate, he said.

"Simply buying those kids bus passes would be far cheaper, and they would get more service," he said. "I have a hard time viewing this as anything other than fleecing the district, and I don't really feel a compelling need to take money out of the classroom to feed the rapacious gaping maw of the MTD."

MTD Executive Director Karl Gnadt said he hadn't talked with Bambenek about the costs, but reiterated that they were rough estimates and could change as more information about the site emerges.

"We knew that there's a margin of error in there," he said.

He noted that there are no other "ridership generators" near the new school site, and the MTD had no plans to add service there, barring the new high school.

Bambenek said several MTD routes run fairly close to the school site, at Market Place Mall and at Wal-Mart on Prospect Avenue, and one that already reaches up to Interstate and Neil Street.

But Gnadt said that line doesn't go right by the property, and one route isn't enough to transport the hundreds of students who would need to get to school. At the current Central site, multiple routes run directly in front of the building, he said.

"We're bringing hundreds of kids into the school and they don't all fit on one bus," Gnadt said. "We can't just say, 'Jump on board this one, once-an hour or once-a-half-hour bus that goes within a half-mile of this location.' No one's going to be satisfied with that level of service to get their kids to school."

Bambenek said it's the MTD's job to acquire the buses and provide the routes needed to serve its customers.

"If kids need to get there, it's MTD's job to get them there," he said. "If they don't want to provide that service, that's something between them and their customers."

Gnadt said the school district is "not just any other MTD customer," requiring service for hundreds of riders. What the school district pays for is access — adding extra buses to public routes and diverting routes to get kids to school, he said. Other customers don't get that service, he said.

Under the contract, MTD sends extra buses in for school start and end times and runs special shuttles, mostly for high school marching band practice, Bambenek said.

The costs involved in transporting Unit 4 students are higher than the contract reflects, Gnadt said, contending that both Urbana and Champaign save money by contracting with the MTD rather than trying to transport students themselves. MTD buses run throughout the day, rather than just before and after school, which helps students who have after-school activities or have to get to jobs or other sites for technical training, he said.

The state also kicks in a portion of the transportation costs, so the MTD charges the districts only for local costs incurred, he said.

The new contract with MTD will be up for discussion at the Sept. 8 school board meeting, Bambenek said.

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ROB McCOLLEY wrote on August 26, 2014 at 7:08 am
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Politicians tend to navel-gaze about budgets. They look at their own budgets, not total costs.


Here, it seems Bambenek is looking at the cost to the school district, not the cost to the taxpayer. The MTD would still need more buses, and expanded routes. Taxpayers will foot that bill.


Also, I think it's silly to assume that the MTD's yearly pass would cost $72 in five years. I hope it will, but I wouldn't wager a massive government expenditure on it.

Joe American wrote on August 26, 2014 at 8:08 am

Let me see if I'm understanding this.  Bambenek jumps on the MTD for their purported "gouging" of the numbers, but - and correct me if I'm wrong - didn't whisper a peep when the architects massively overinflated the cost for them to build on the Spaulding site?


rsp wrote on August 26, 2014 at 8:08 am

Distract the taxpayers! The mtd is the bad guy.

Skepticity wrote on August 26, 2014 at 11:08 am

Is Bambenek a fan of Mayor Prussing?  Budget problems in Urbana are Carle's fault.  Budget issues in Champaign schools are the MTD's fault.

Sounds like a template...

football jingoists wrote on August 26, 2014 at 8:08 am

I would like to know more about these magical bus passes that can transport people without actual routes or buses. This guy sounds like has some kind of personal vendetta against the MTD.

itazurakko wrote on August 26, 2014 at 11:08 am

Seriously.  Does he not realize that there isn't a bus that currently runs up to that part of town? It's adding the new routes, the new buses, and reconfiguring the schedule that is going to cost some money.

But hey! Perhaps that's another reason to not put the new high school on the fringes of sprawlville. 

rsp wrote on August 26, 2014 at 12:08 pm

No, seriously, have all the kids walk to the mall in the snow in the winter, and catch buses first come first served. They can shop(lift) while they wait their turn.

Khristine wrote on August 26, 2014 at 12:08 pm

It appears Mr. Bambenec is lacking in his understanding of this community and how essential MTD is to the community. The current routes are wholly unsuited to accommodate the several hundred students who would need bus transportation to and from the new Central High School location. The suggestion by Mr. Bambenec that these students could just traipse a half mile or a mile through northside subdivisions and apartment complexes to reach a bus at the Champaign Walmart or Marketplace Mall to pack onto a community route bus is absurd. And, just what are those students and passengers suppose to do once that one bus at Walmart is full? I suppose Grandma and her walker could just wait in the cold for another half-an-hour and take her chances with getting on the next bus for her grievous error of needing that half-gallon of milk at 3:00 p.m. Come on School Board! Common sense, please. 

cretis16 wrote on August 26, 2014 at 4:08 pm

Mr. Bambi Neck has broken cardinal rule #1 in Champaign/Urbana

Thou shalt never, ever criticize a public taxing body...especially on money issues. MTD has insatiable appetite for tax dollars.


Kathy S wrote on August 26, 2014 at 4:08 pm

I'm really disappointed in how little thought the board seems to have given to the issues involved in transporting students so much farther away.  Giving kids a bus pass and then expecting the MTD to absorb all extra costs of adding routes & buses isn't cost saving--it's cost shifting, and taxpayers will still have to pay for it.  

Kathy R. wrote on August 26, 2014 at 10:08 pm

The MTD can reliably transport my son to middle school in just over a half hour, with a  3-minute walk to his stop. In order to reach my daughter's elementary school, Unit 4 proposed that my second grader should walk a half-mile to her stop and then (if it arrives on time) spend over an hour on the yellow bus to reach a school that is *closer* to our house than my son's school. Guess which organization I trust more with transportation planning?

mattd149 wrote on August 27, 2014 at 2:08 am

Both sides are trying to play hardball here.  Yes MTD will incure increased costs with the move from the center of the city to the north side but also have an opportunity to increase revenue headed to the school that they may not have had in the central location.  The school will most likely pay for some of these costs. 

The school board is actually playing this smart in my mind because everything the MTD said will not be true once the school is built. regardless if they have the school contract or not.   If the school decides to bus all the students themselves the MTD will still move the lines to the high school.  MTD does not make money if they dont offer service to areas where there is a potential for large numbers of riders. 

rsp wrote on August 27, 2014 at 12:08 pm

I'm confused by your comment. Do you really think the mtd will reroute the bus lines to Interstate Drive if the school is built there, in the hopes if picking up kids who are supposed to ride the yellow bus? And all this to pick up a couple bucks? Unless there is housing or development picked up over there it's a wasteland. Ride the yellow sometime from the Illinois Terminal to the mall out by Meijer and Walmart and back. Just for fun.

mattd149 wrote on August 28, 2014 at 2:08 am

So you  think the 6300 students twice a day have no inclination to ride the mtd to school even though the schools isnt paying for them to? This is a high school alot of these kids wont be riding the yellow bus if that is the only thing offered.  Do you think all high school kids go directly home?  MTD will be there to fullfill their needs.   Thats not including teachers and parents who may need or want to goto the school.  When that school is built it will not be a wasteland. 

rsp wrote on August 30, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Over half of the students are low income. Explain to me how they come up with the money to ride the bus around town just for fun. It's a dollar a trip. That may not sound like much but it adds up quick. It can be the choice between riding around on the bus and eating.

Skepticity wrote on August 31, 2014 at 10:08 am

The district will provide annual bus passes to students.  Little extra income.  Taxpayers will need to provide more support.