Amid the glorious sensory overload that is Bloomington in the spring, you may not have noticed the posters on Bloomington Transit buses announcing “North America’s Best Public Transportation System 2010.” Sounds impressive. And it is.

Two years ago the American Public Transportation Association, a nonprofit trade organization devoted to strengthening and improving public transportation systems across the U.S. and Canada, awarded Bloomington Transit (BT) top honors in the Small Transit System category of under 4,000,000 passenger trips per year.

The award, described by BT General Manager Lewis May as “the most prestigious in our industry,” recognizes the company’s performance in a variety of areas. Particularly notable is the company’s progressive approach to customer service. BT operates nine routes that crisscross town, from the Clear Creek Shopping Center on Rhorer Road at the south to Meadows Hospital near Acuff Road at the north. East-west routes take passengers from Highland Village west of town to Park Ridge on the east. Buses operate various hours and days depending on the route, but generally service is available from 6:30 am to 11:30 pm weekdays and 8 am to 6 pm on Saturdays. On Sundays, limited service is available on two routes.

BT’s commitment to environmental sustainability is another criterion for the award. The system now has six hybrid vehicles—part diesel, part electric—the newest of which are 40 percent more fuel efficient than their conventional diesel-fueled counterparts. BT also has plans to construct a passenger-transfer station at 3rd and South Walnut streets in 2012 that will be certified through the Leadership in Energy and Evironmental Design Green Building Rating System.

Since BT’s establishment in 1973, the company has benefited from the staunch support of city administrations interested in promoting public transportation. Ridership has grown steadily, largely because BT management has forged mutually beneficial working relationships with key area organizations. Thanks to an agreement with Indiana University, students, staff, and faculty ride at no charge. BT has a reciprocal transfer arrangement with Rural Transit that allows connections to Ivy Tech Community College and other Monroe County destinations via BT’s downtown passenger-transfer facility. BT management also has contracted with two large employers—the City of Bloomington and Monroe County—to provide free travel to their employees.

BT’s collaborative approach to encouraging the use of public transportation has resulted in a nine-fold increase in passenger trips between 1984 and 2010—from around 350,000 to nearly 3.5 million—a period during which the city’s population has less than doubled.

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