Air Bus given another year

Air Bus given another year

CHAMPAIGN — Air Bus service between the University of Illinois campus and Willard Airport will continue for another year, but in a stripped-down version.

The Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District board Wednesday unanimously approved a revised agreement covering the service.

Under the new agreement, the service will not include the Institute of Aviation at Willard, formerly operated by the UI but now under the auspices of Parkland College.

"This is our first semester for operating of the Institute of Aviation under Parkland College. We have approximately 25 students enrolled in that course now. I think all but one have their own transportation to the airport," said Parkland President Tom Ramage. "So it would be an awfully expensive single person."

MTD officials had proposed last month that Parkland, the UI and the MTD each pay $29,000 a year to provide service between the Illinois Terminal in downtown Champaign and Willard, including the Institute of Aviation.

The new service — beginning Monday — will be paid for by the MTD (about $42,600 a year) and the UI (no more than $29,000), said MTD Managing Director Karl Gnadt. It will operate between the Illinois Terminal, the Illini Union and Willard.

"We're leaving the door open, though," Ramage said, "that if in a year we have 2,000 students enrolled we can look at participating again possibly."

The new service — 10 trips daily to and from the airport — will be provided Monday through Saturday from next week to Aug. 31, 2015. It will operate primarily as an airport shuttle for the Illini Union Hotel, according to a memo to MTD board members.

The schedule will be coordinated with arrivals and departures of flights at Willard, said Gnadt.

"That is something that the Air Bus has not necessarily done in the past. So we were very deliberate about doing that," he said.

The first daily trip to Willard will leave the Illinois Terminal at 6:02 a.m. and arrive at the airport at 6:30 a.m. The last trip of the day will leave the downtown terminal at 8:37 p.m. and arrive at Willard at 9:05 p.m.

The first morning trip will depart Willard at 6:40 a.m. The last will leave the airport at 9:05 p.m.

Although the MTD board vote Wednesday was unanimous, three board members expressed concerns about the service, which operates outside of the transit district's boundaries. They indicated they would support it only while a study of Willard's future governance is ongoing.

"I support this but only as a stopgap measure until something's done at the airport and we can do whatever service is justified under our normal policy," said board member Willard Broom of Urbana.

"We should keep this going," added board member Margaret Chaplan of Champaign, "as long as the future of the airport is up in the air. After the task force report has been delivered and there's been an opportunity to consider their recommendations, then we can review this whole thing again. But it didn't seem to be very constructive to cancel the service in the middle of this."

Board member Brad Diel said he'd support the service for another year "although I'm concerned about the amount of ridership and the cost per rider."

MTD board members also learned Wednesday that July ridership totaled 529,018, or 9 percent above the July 2013 total. July ridership traditionally is the lowest of the year because the absence of most UI students and the mild weather.