Connect Transit’s new general manager said he wants to explore new technologies to build on the sustainability of public transportation.
David Braun is set to take over Bloomington-Normal’s public transit system on Aug. 9, following its nearly year-long search for a new GM.
Braun said he welcomes the addition of electric buses to Connect Transit’s fleet, but the transit agency will have to think bigger about emerging technology.
“Electric buses have certain range issues and certain other issues and I think their capability continues to get better month over month,” Braun said during a WGLT Sound Ideas interview. “We’ll keep our options open.”
Braun said he would like to see Connect Transit add buses that run on hydrogen fuel cells. Champaign-Urbana’s transit system is building a hydrogen production and fueling system now.
Braun also said it’s not clear how public transportation might have to adapt long term after the COVID pandemic, but noted public transit will have to remain safe and reliable to attract people who have other travel options.
Braun said some public transit riders, especially younger ones, ride the bus because they believe in sustainability.
“I think that millennials are a group that is more aware of sustainability issues and recognizes that public transportation might be a way to get there,” Braun said.
‘Linked’ to Peoria
Braun, 55, is a Lake Bluff, Ill. native who comes to Bloomington-Normal from Cincinnati, where he was in charge of operations for that city’s public transit system. He ran City Link in Peoria from 1996 to 2002.
Braun helped develop a transportation center in Peoria two decades ago. As Connect Transit plans to build a $20 million transfer center in downtown Bloomington, Braun said the agency should keep the community’s needs in mind.
“We need to recognize we are there to serve all of the community’s needs,” he said, adding the transportation center in Peoria included a daycare center.
Braun said he was drawn to the Connect Transit job by the values that were included in its strategic plan. “They are accountability stewards of public resources and that was something that really stuck out for me,” Braun said. “We have an obligation to the community to run a good and productive system and not just be an experiment with public transit.”
Braun said the transit board hasn’t talked to him yet about reported discussions to bring new service to the Rivian plant in north Normal. Mayor Chris Koos has said Connect Transit may need to run a special shuttle to and from Rivian since work shifts at the electric vehicle plant don’t currently sync with the transit agency’s bus schedule.
Braun replaces Isaac Thorne, who left last summer for a transit job in Tennessee.